Human Rights Watch calls on Nepal government to act urgently to avert a looming Covid-19 crisisThe rights body urges donor countries like the US, UK and EU to make life-saving oxygen equipment and vaccines equitably available.
Human Rights Watch has called on the Nepal government to urgently act to manage a rapidly escalating Covid-19 emergency in the country.
The New York-based international human rights organisation has said that the Nepal government, with the support from foreign donors, should increase the availability of emergency medical supplies including bottled oxygen, ventilators, and therapeutic drugs.
Issuing a statement on Monday night, it said that the health system in the country has reached a breaking point as the number of infections is doubling every three days.
Nepal has been reporting over 8,000 new coronavirus infections daily for the past few days, a sharp rise from around 100 new cases just until March this year. On Monday, the Health Ministry said there were 139 deaths across the country.
Health facilities in Nepal are overwhelmed with the rising number of coronavirus patients, as hospitals are reporting shortages of beds and oxygen.
“Nepal’s under-resourced public health system is strained beyond capacity,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for the rights body, is quoted in the statement. “Large volumes of oxygen equipment and other medical supplies are urgently needed to avert a Covid-19 catastrophe in the country.” Nepal on Monday reported 9,127 new cases, the highest single day spike, in the last 24 hours taking the nationwide coronavirus infection tally to 403,794.
Quoting a senior medical officer, Human Rights Watch said people in Nepal are dying literally because of lack of oxygen and hospital facilities. It said that the Nepal Army which has been mobilised for dead bodies management too was becoming overwhelmed.
Citing the statements from the officials and medical workers, the international human rights watchdog said the Nepal government’s response to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal has been slow and poorly managed.
Government officials, according to Human Rights Watch, said that Nepal also urgently needs to bolster supplies of therapeutic drugs like Remdesivir, consumables such as oxygen tubes and masks, and ventilators and other critical care facilities. Nepal has about 560 ventilators, less than half of what may be needed according to donor agency estimates, it said.
As the virus crisis is deepening, Nepal is at a loss about acquiring vaccines.
Nepal launched its vaccination drive on January 27 with the 1 million doses of Covieshiled, the AstraZeneca type vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccine was provided by the government of India for free under grant assistance. Nepal in February placed an order for 2 million doses, but the Serum Institute delivered just half of the order. The remaining doses have not arrived, and there are no prospects of them arriving anytime soon.
Apart from the AstraZeneca vaccine, Nepal has granted emergency use approval to Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, China Sniopharm’s Vero Cell (BBIBP-CorV), and Russia’s Sputnik V.
Nepal’s over-reliance on India, which was being touted as a vaccine powerhouse, now has left the country without vaccines and any new consignment nowhere in sight.
Human Rights Watch has quoted a Health Ministry official that despite having money to buy the jabs, the country is not likely to get them anytime soon due to the vaccine scarcity.
“We are not getting vaccines from anywhere, although we do have the money,” Dr Pokharel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, has been quoted in the statement.
The rights body has also questioned the government’s commitment to the fight against the pandemic.
“The government's willingness to devote its attention to the crisis remains unclear,” it said. “The prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, has repeatedly recommended herbal remedies, such as guava leaves, as a cure for Covid-19.”
The rights watchdog also said Nepal’s international development partners, who have supported the government’s health infrastructure for decades, have also not adequately prepared.
“In discussions among development agencies in the final week of April, seen by Human Rights Watch, international officials spoke of a lack of clarity from the government as to its priority needs, and also a lack of information among themselves about such basic matters as the country’s medical oxygen infrastructure,” said the rights body. “International NGOs have been unable to transfer funds to the government because the bureaucracy is unable to complete paperwork due to Covid-19 cases among ministers and officials.”
Ganguly, the rights body’s South Asia director, has called upon Nepal’s international partners to immediately extend their support.
“Nepal’s healthcare system was in no condition to confront an emergency on this scale, and the government needs to act to protect all Nepalis’ right to health,” said Ganguly. “To avert a terrible disaster it is critical for the Nepali government and donor countries like the US, UK, and the EU to urgently make life-saving oxygen equipment and vaccines equitably available.”