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Nepal: Vaccines and oxygen desperately needed amid devastating second Covid-19 wave

New Amnesty briefing calls for international community to step up support

“We are currently seeing the same desperate situation play out in Nepal that we saw in India over recent months” – Yamini Mishra

Nepal’s politicians must set aside their differences and take decisive action to save thousands of lives as the country endures a devastating second wave of Covid-19, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published today (June 14).

The briefing, Struggling to Breathe: The Second Wave of Covid-19 in Nepal, examines the virus’ impact on the country’s underfunded health system, and the consequences of medicine and equipment shortages for hospital staff and Covid-19 patients.

Nepal’s infrastructure is already struggling under current caseloads, with dire shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, personal protective equipment and vaccines all contributing to the problem. 

The current crisis is being exacerbated by a mutated virus that leads to higher levels of mortality, and additional complications such as pneumonia, which is increasing demand for oxygen. The lack of Covid-19 vaccines has also severely hampered the country’s efforts to reduce the burden on the health system, and curb the spread of the virus.

The briefing also addresses the inadequate response of Nepal’s authorities to date, further complicated as the country’s parliament has been dissolved twice in the past five months. Nepal currently has one of the world’s highest infection rates, and the Ministry of Health recently projected an additional 300,000 cases by July.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, said: 

“We are currently seeing the same desperate situation play out in Nepal that we saw in India over recent months. The country’s healthcare system is teetering, with hospitals reaching capacity, and overstretched, hopelessly under-resourced staff are unable to keep up with overwhelming demand.

“To save thousands of lives, Nepal’s authorities must prioritise the procurement and supply of oxygen, which until now has been held up by inaction and bureaucratic wrangling. The international community must urgently provide supplies of oxygen, ventilators, vaccines and other life-saving products.

“Nepal desperately needs more vaccines to help combat this deadly second wave of Covid-19. While countries like China and the US have now pledged to provide vaccines to Nepal, this is not enough.

“The international community has to come together and provide unequivocal support to global mechanisms such as COVAX to ensure equitable access to vaccines, and prioritise resource and technology transfer to produce vaccines locally.”

COVAX, a global initiative to help low and middle-income countries access vaccines, is falling short on its commitments as richer countries continue to hoard surplus supplies well beyond their requirements.  

Rapid Covid-19 spread

Covid-19 is currently widespread across all seven of Nepal’s provinces, and public health experts believe that the number of deaths is being vastly underestimated.

One health worker Amnesty interviewed described the situation at his hospital as being “like that of a war zone”. Another described the crisis as being worse than the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015, which killed almost 9,000 people and injured almost 22,000.

Nepal, like other countries across South Asia, is also facing a drastic shortage of vaccines. As of 10 May 2021, less than 2.5 million of Nepal’s 30 million population had received even one jab - fewer than one in ten people.

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