November 27, 2023
KATHMANDU – The Ministry of Health and Population has included additional medicines to treat non-communicable diseases to the list of essential drugs to be distributed free from state-run health facilities throughout the country.
“We have included several medicines for non-communicable diseases—mental health, cardiovascular, respiratory illness and diabetes,” said Dr Phanindra Prasad Baral, chief of the NCD and Mental Health Section at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division. “Now the number of medicines for non-communicable diseases listed as essential drugs has reached 20.”
The health ministry used to provide more than 70 different types of medicines for communicable and non-communicable diseases to all district hospitals with at least 25 beds. Patients get more than 60 types of essential medicines at primary healthcare centres and 35 types of drugs at health posts.
“Now, district hospitals will provide 98 types of medicines for both communicable and non-communicable diseases free of cost from district hospitals, and primary health care centres,” said Baral. “Patients can get 57 types of medicines free of cost from health posts across the country. The government has allocated the budget accordingly to the provincial and local governments.”
Public health experts have been urging the agencies concerned to increase the budget and give more attention to non-communicable diseases, which have been responsible for over two-thirds of the total deaths in the country for a long time.
A 2019 study on the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases by the Nepal Health Research Council found that noncommunicable diseases accounted for 71 percent of the deaths in the country. Reports show heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infection and stroke are the leading killers.
A report of the STEP survey of non-communicable disease risk factors jointly carried out by the World Health Organization, the Health Ministry and the Nepal Health Research Council revealed alarming signs on a number of issues—alcohol consumption, tobacco use, salt and junk food intake, vegetable and fruits intake, and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Changing lifestyles—increasing sedentary behaviour, tobacco and alcohol use, and unhealthy diets—are the main risk factors for deaths and disabilities, according to multiple reports.
Experts say a lot of people suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and heart ailments, among others could not afford to purchase medicines, which is among the reasons for premature deaths. Out-of-pocket payments are the reasons in many cases for discontinuity of the medications, doctors say. Patients suffering from most non-communicable diseases can’t discontinue their medication without consulting their doctors.
According to doctors, medication for most non-communicable diseases—high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory diseases, heart diseases—works only when taken regularly. They advise that those suffering from these ailments should not discontinue their medicines, even when their health returns to normal.
“We can understand how serious the burden of non-communicable diseases is, as three out of four deaths in Nepal are due to non-communicable diseases,” said Dr Bhagwan Koirala, former chairman of Nepal Medical Council, the national regulatory body of medical doctors. “Investments must be increased to address the burden of non-communicable diseases.”
Though non-communicable diseases result from a combination of genetic, psychological, environmental and behavioural factors, they have significant impacts on children, according to Koirala.