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One Year Later: Nepal and COVID-19

Rabia Tanweer - Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Intern

A year and a half after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, many countries are still struggling with new waves of the disease and vaccination efforts. Nepal is no exception. As of August 23rd, there have been over 212 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 747,000 of those confirmed cases are in Nepal. It is likely that the real number of cases is much higher due to inadequate testing across the country, particularly in rural areas. Even when it is available, many are hesitant to undergo testing as they fear being forced to isolate and separate from their families. Testing can often be financially costly and it can take up to two weeks to receive results, putting communities at greater risk of infection.

Picture Credit: UNHCR

As its neighbor India struggled with its third wave, Nepal became susceptible to an outbreak of a new variant of the virus, the Delta variant. This variant originated from India and is believed to be highly contagious. According to Nepal’s Health Ministry, 97% of the cases studied are of the Delta strain. The country’s second wave began in April and overwhelmed its health system. Now, four months after the second wave began, Nepal appears to be on the brink of a third wave.

In Nepal, there is an estimated one doctor for every 1,430 people, compared to roughly one doctor every 385 people in the United States. However, most of Nepal’s health workers are based in Kathmandu and its surrounding areas, leaving rural areas especially vulnerable. Many rural communities lack access to health workers, with only one doctor every 150,000 people.

The devastating recent flooding in Sindhupalchowk increases local communities’ risk of COVID-19. According to the Helambu Rural Municipality, 90 houses were damaged badly. Due to the destruction of homes, roads, and other infrastructure, hundreds of people in Melamchi and Helambu have been displaced and are forced to stay in shelters. These shelters are at risk of becoming infection hotspots, not only for COVID-19, but for outbreaks of seasonal diseases.

Aythos has been closely monitoring the impact of both the recent flooding and the pandemic on its partner communities. We remain committed to supporting vulnerable communities with these recent challenges, while also continuing to implement its ongoing health and economic development programs. However, due to the government mandated lockdown instituted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Aythos has been supporting communities from afar by relying on past work and training and partnering with local organizations. Although Aythos staff have been unable to meet face to face with their partner communities, they have been able to check in with beneficiaries and provide support via frequent phone calls. Summer pruning of kiwi plants is currently underway!

While the consequences of monsoon floods are hindering our efforts, we hope we will be able to visit our partner communities and kick off new projects in the coming months thanks to vaccines becoming more widely available. Several foreign governments such as the United States, China, and Japan have sent millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Currently, vaccinations are being administered to those over fifty years old and 8% of Nepal’s total population is fully vaccinated. As vaccine efforts in Nepal accelerate, Aythos is excitedly preparing to implement more projects that support Himalayan communities by fostering health and creating opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

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