Last Updated on June 14, 2017, 11:49 a.m.
In the wake of numerous deaths of migrant workers reported each year, the Ministry of Health has decided to launch an investigation into the real cause of their demise, especially in cases where an apparently healthy person would go to bed only to be found dead the following morning.
The causes of such deaths, termed as Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome, in many cases have been mysterious as a majority of them are listed as “natural death, heart attack or cardiac arrest “ to avoid insurance claims and other obligations.
Often times, even postmortem conducted in the host countries are inconclusive, leaving enough room to doubt their credibility.
“Our people are dying in large numbers and it’s a shame that we don’t know the real cause of deaths,” said Health Minister Gagan Thapa. “All of those who died abroad were given a clean bill of health by our institutions. Yet, many of them would perish a few months after landing in a foreign land.”
More than 5,000 Nepali migrants have died working abroad since 2008.
Data from a 2016 report “When the Safety of Nepal Migrant Workers Fails” published by the International Labour Organization shows that the cause of death of 795 Nepalis who lost their lives in various job destinations between 2008-09 and 2014-15 could not be ascertained. During the period, 849 Nepali migrants were reported to have died of natural causes.
Malaysia topped the list with 546 cases of deaths with unknown causes, followed by Qatar (140) and Saudi Arabia (34). Malaysia hosts nearly half a million Nepali migrant workers, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia each have 400,000.
The ministry has already written to the Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) to begin an investigation. A PAHS team under Dr Kedar Baral has started holding talks with the Department of Labour and is planning a study trip to Malaysia.
“We will talk to public health officials and doctors there and observe conditions of the Nepali migrants. We will also collect data on the postmortem done among the Nepali migrants,” said Dr Baral.
The ministry has also asked the PAHS to establish a dedicated “Foreign Employee Health Centre” to investigate various health aspects of migrant workers and advice the government in drawing up necessary policies.
Amid questions over the health certificates issued by various health institutions, the ministry has decided to conduct such medical check-ups at the government health institutions at a subsidised rate. A male migrant worker will have to pay Rs2,940 and a female worker Rs3,100 for a health check-up.
Talks are on with the Foreign Ministry to keep a doctor attaché at Nepali missions in the countries where the number of Nepali migrant workers are high, the Health Ministry said, adding that the embassy could liaise with the government and migrant workers regarding their health conditions.