The second wave of Covid-19 is breaking across Nepal with devastating effect. Fueled by new and deadly variants, the virus is replicating faster here than in India (when adjusted for population) and arguably anywhere else on the planet. Our health systems are already overwhelmed and the economy is fracturing. We have reached the point of no return.
At current mortality rates, we need to be prepared for up to 285,000 deaths across the country.
We are deeply grateful for the $8.5 million recently pledged by the US Government to support Covid relief efforts in Nepal. These funds are allocated to crucial activities like increasing testing capacity, treatment, infection control, and community level assistance. While extremely valuable, these activities alone will not slow, nor will they stop, the spread of the virus.
Like the wildfires that have burned with unprecedented intensity across the country, Covid is spreading at a rate that is hard to fully comprehend. In a number of major population centers, 75% of all Covid tests are coming back positive, as are 47% of tests nationwide. We anticipate that within two months, ten critically ill patients will be vying for every single available ICU bed. Access to ventilators and medical oxygen face the same constriction in supply.
Nepal also depends upon manufacturing in India for the majority of our medical supplies — including basic items like PPE and oxygen cylinders. As India is neck-deep in its own disaster, these materials will cease to be available for import into Nepal soon. Like during the earthquake, our challenges were compounded by a devastating blockade.
This needs to be said directly: it is now impossible to upgrade Nepal’s healthcare infrastructure at the speed and scale necessary to meet the overwhelming demands posed by the Covid crisis. The only option to save lives is to stop the virus at the source, to extinguish the fire. The only way to do this is through a robust and immediate vaccination campaign.
In March, the US Government pledged 4.5 million doses to support vaccination programs in Mexico and Canada. In the last week of April, it pledged to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine stockpile. Twenty countries are currently being considered as potential recipients – the list does not include Nepal.
We cannot let Nepal disappear into the darkness: there is simply too much at stake. We have written an open letter to the US Ambassador Randy Berry urging him and his colleagues to pursue any means possible to secure an immediate supply of vaccines for Nepal.
The bright and free days of winter are already a distant memory as we enter the second week of lockdown. Inevitably, these extreme measures will again slow the spread of the virus and save countless lives. But we also all know this is not a permanent solution.
Research shows that, on average, each month of lockdown costs the country approximately 1% of GDP, and this rate grows exponentially over time. Our tolerance for the lockdown will only last so long, and inevitably, despite the exorbitant price tag, this measure of last resort has a very short shelf life.
We cannot squander this opportunity again. Nepal has a well-proven ability to distribute crucial public health benefits, including vaccines, to people in every corner of the country, no matter how remote. Our Vitamin A and measles vaccination programs serve as examples for the world.
The current lockdown gives us a short window to inoculate the population against the inevitable third and fourth waves of the virus. After this, we will yet again cross the threshold into crisis and death.
Almost immediately after the dust settled following the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April, 2015 the international community sprung into action to support Nepal. The US government alone has provided $130 million for life-saving relief and reconstruction projects since.
Unlike the earthquake, this current disaster is entirely preventable. With help from our longstanding development partners like the US government, we have the opportunity to save tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives across Nepal. Providing surplus vaccine doses to Nepal is an opportunity to reduce unnecessary suffering and death.
Unlike with natural disasters, how Nepal manages the coronavirus has profound implications across South Asia and the globe. Stopping the virus here is crucial for the health of our families, the region, and the world.
The Covid Alliance for Nepal
To view the open letter to Ambassador Berry, follow this link:
To get involved, follow @covidalliancefornepal on Facebook and @alliance4nep on Twitter and Instagram.