International NGOs call for vaccine donations to Nepal to mitigate humanitarian crisis

By Laxman Datt Pant

International NGOs call for vaccine donations to Nepal to mitigate humanitarian crisis

The Association of International NGOs (AIN) in Nepal has called on all G7 and G20 countries and the EU to donate AstraZeneca vaccines from their stockpile to Nepal to mitigate the humanitarian crisis there. The appeal came as the 30-million-people country faced an acute shortage of jabs amid an ongoing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a strong fear of a third wave.

When contacted by DevelopmentAid, Dr. Sushil Koirala, AIN Chairperson, said that “the unequal distribution of vaccines” among countries represented the greatest difficulty in the fight against the pandemic.

“While some of the developed countries have extra reserves of the vaccines, developing countries like Nepal have limited access to vaccines,” he noted.

Adding that various strains of the virus pose a significant challenge to tackling the pandemic, Dr. Koirala said that the need for vaccines was increasing in Nepal.

“Even the vaccines that have been pledged by the international community, we are not sure when they will arrive,” he emphasized.

The AIN, a network of 122 international NGOs working in Nepal, has also urged the global COVAX partnership to step in to prevent further catastrophic health costs, to bring the pandemic under control, and to ease the burden on the public health system if a third wave does hit the country.

“The principle of equity must be duly followed while distributing COVID-19 vaccines so that no one is excluded from getting the life-saving jabs. This is only possible through the COVAX facility along with support from vaccine-producing countries,” the AIN appeal issued on July 9 reads.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) of Nepal:

  • Approximately 2.5 million people have had a first dose of the vaccine
  • Only 0.7 million people have had the second dose
  • More than 1.4 million people who were vaccinated with a first dose of the Covishield (Oxford AstraZeneca) vaccine in mid-March 2021 are still unable to have the second dose
  • Nepal has reported a huge gap between the demand and supply of the expected shipments of 4 million VeroCell vaccines from China
  • Although Nepal has paid for one million doses of the Covishield vaccine from India’s Serum Institute, India has banned exports of the vaccine

Asked by DevelopmentAid what needs to be done to ensure the prompt procurement and delivery of adequate COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Koirala said:

“All INGOs working in Nepal should stand in solidarity and work towards lobbying and advocacy for global solidarity for vaccines. In addition, the frontline humanitarian workers from civil society organizations must not be overlooked.”

He added that AIN stands by the statement from UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres that “vaccine equity is the greatest immediate moral test of our times. It is also a practical necessity. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone is under threat.”

As of July 8, COVID-19 cases in Nepal had exceeded 0.65 million with the death toll standing at 9,320. The South Asian country was hit by a second wave of the pandemic back in May and although the situation began to more or less stabilize by mid-June, an upward trend was witnessed again in July, one week after the authorities relaxed lockdown measures.