Several ACT Alliance-members have been working in Nepal for years and have strong networks in the country. Bidyanath Bhurtel, Forum Convenor and ICCO Cooperation Country director, explains how the members respond to the second COVID-wave in the country, currently facing the highest positivity and production rates in the world.
After the first COVID-wave in 2020, people in Nepal were too optimistic and had a false sense of security as it seemed that the country would get away with a limited number of cases and a low mortality rate. “That probably was part of the problem”, states Bidyanath Bhurtel, ACT Forum’s convenor and ICCO Country director. Although it’s generally known that what happens in India usually affects Nepal with a certain delay, the steep rise of COVID-19 cases hit the country unexpectedly in mid-April. The number of newly infected persons rose from around 300 to almost 10,000 per day within a month. Besides feeling too safe and thus not being as careful as necessary due to a mild first wave, other causes might have been included a failure to avoid gatherings happening around social and political events, inadequate management of seasonal migrants coming back home to Nepal through its porous border with India, and active migration routes to the Gulf States via Nepal. At the end of April, a lockdown was imposed in most of the districts.
Exploding number of cases since mid-April
The situation is comparable to India now. The ACT Nepal Forum therefore came together and decided to join forces, issue an alert and work on an appeal, planning to reach at least 200,000 households. The members decided upon their activities according to the network of local partners and the previous experiences they had. “We want to complement each other”, says the Forum Convenor. Thus, the forum members are active in six of the seven provinces of Nepal. As there is such a strong existing network of local partners, authorities and institutions, the fact that most members have to work from home due to the lockdown does not hinder their work. “We still can be active within the areas we used to work, and get special authorizations to travel locally if needed”, explains Bidyanath Bhurtel.
Photo B. Bhurtel
Lack of health supplies
The primary focus of the joint forum activities are life-saving needs, meaning the supply and distribution of medical equipment, especially oxygen cylinders, concentrators and ventilators, followed by personal protective equipment (PPE). “In order to reassure the technical know-how, we will closely collaborate with the United Mission to Nepal (UNM) who are observers and advisors of the forum, consisting of DanChurchAid, Felm, Finn Church Aid, ICCO Cooperation and Lutheran World Federation. “Each one of us is willing to share expertise and to support each other”, says the Forum Convenor.
Making vaccines accessible for all is one of the biggest challenges in the days to come
As a second step, the forum is planning to support the vaccination of a growing number of persons. At the moment, less than ten percent of the population have received their first short. ACT’s Nepal Forum and ACT Alliance will continue to engage in national and international advocacy for equitable and efficient vaccination.
Many requirements around vaccinations
While procuring enough vaccines is one part of the challenge which is handled by the Government of Nepal reasonably well, the other one is its distribution, administration, and – most importantly – proper information about it. Bidyanath Bhurtel says: “There are all kinds of misinformation around. Therefore, awareness raising and psychosocial, behavioural change support is very important to prepare the way for the vaccination of big parts of the population, especially in rural areas”, he explains. Moreover in the past, there were conflicts among people queueing to get vaccinated, adding to risk of spread of the virus. Thus, the forum will support the national vaccination drive where necessary and possible for forum members and their partners. Of course, it will coordinate all its activities with the local governments, health institutions, local civil society organisations and faith leaders.
Targeting institutions and most vulnerable populations
Besides assisting government and communities in running health institutions to render quality and efficient health services, infected people and families of persons with special needs will be provided other much needed support, such as nutritious food, psychosocial wellbeing, livelihoods recovery among others. Referral systems should ensure their access to health facilities and vaccination centres. Migrant returnees and poor families will be supported with cash-based intervention and to create a small-scale livelihood where feasible and applicable.
ACT’s Nepal Forum will raise an appeal in the coming days. A Global Coordination Call was organised by the ACT Secretariat on Thursday, 13 May 2021, to understand the needs and coordinate a timely and efficient ACT response. The country needs your support urgently.
Find more information on the situation in Nepal in the alert.
Photos from top to bottom, left to right: DCA Nepal, Baburam Shrestha/FCA, SAHAS Felm, LWF Nepal.
Featured photo: Saroj Basnet for ICCO Cooperation