Nepal suffered from one of the worst COVID-19 situations world-wide in May 2021, and an alert was issued consequently. After having only a few new cases in July, the country meanwhile faces a third wave with the predominant Delta-variant. How does it cope with it and where are the priorities of the ACT-Forum?
The primary focus of the joint Nepal Forum activities in May were lifesaving needs, meaning the supply and distribution of medical equipment, especially oxygen cylinders, concentrators and ventilators, followed by personal protective equipment (PPE). Due to strict prohibitory orders from the government, the COVID-cases were down to less than a hundred per day in July. However, in the meantime, Nepal has entered the third wave with the Delta and Delta plus variants.
“What I observe is that hospitals are crowding up now. But there is significant improvement in the supply of oxygen in hospitals, unlike the second wave. That is probably the reason why compared to the second wave, the number of daily deaths is not very alarming, with 40-50 deaths per day. The new leadership and a new team of experts at the Ministry of Health took some proactive measures such as a national ‘mask up’ campaign which was quite effective”, says Forum Convenor Bidyanath Bhurtel in view of data given for the week between August 15-20. The campaign was launched a day after the coronavirus death toll crossed the mark of 10,000. The new leadership also collaborates with development partners including WHO. The referral systems which were supported by the Nepal Forum to ensure access to health facilities and vaccination centres for infected people and families of persons with special needs have started now.
Nepal Forum Convenor Bidyanath Bhurtel
Rural areas at higher risk
Bidyanath Bhurtel however is worried, especially about the situation in rural areas: “Still the general populace looks a bit too relaxed and is not really maintaining the non-pharmaceutical measures like masks, sanitizer, and social distancing. The situation in the rural context is a concern, including the villages in the outskirts of Kathmandu valley. I see that the third wave is creating havoc also in the villages together with the cities. Besides, a lot of the cases in the villages are not reported. In addition, the health facilities are sometimes inaccessible, both in terms of distance and affordability, for people in rural locations”, says the Forum Convenor about the situation. The situation of the migrants is very fluid. Some keep going back to India, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.
Vaccination rate higher than in other Asian countries
Another focus of the Nepal Forum in May was to support the government in increasing the vaccination rate which is actually catching up. There are more vaccines coming in the country (around 12% fully vaccinated now, according to the Ministry of Health). But according to the Convenor, the administration still looks poorly organized. “The spokesperson of the Ministry clearly said in one of the meetings that they do not have enough human resources to manage the crowds outside the vaccine centres. In addition, a clear information gap exists between government’s vaccination plans and what general people know about them. I see role of INGOs here and we (ICCO/Cordaid, through another project) are starting to do it in different rural locations”, states Bidyanath Bhurtel. The Nepal Forum in some locations is still assisting the government efforts, too.
It also continues to back government and communities in running health institutions to render quality and efficient health services and to provide support to infected people and families of persons with special needs. “In essence, we are trying our best to fill the gaps between the needs on the ground and what the government is able to provide”, says the Forum Convenor.
ICCO Cooperation supporting a local health centre in a remote area of the Sindhupalchowk district (Photos ICCO Cooperation)