Nepal’s homegrown Covid-19 heroes

Nepalis are not only recipients of humanitarian aid—they lead many such efforts, disaster after disaster, including Covid-19. Watch our short video to learn more.

A few years ago my eyes were opened to the fact that international organizations provide only a fraction of aid that flows into countries after disasters—most of it comes from families, communities, religious institutions, local and national civil society organizations, and governments.

Yet, what I’ve seen online during the Covid-19 pandemic does not reflect that reality, at least not concerning Nepal. Here, for the past year I’ve watched individuals, including an immuno-compromised friend who is unable to get vaccinated, set aside work and family to serve hot food to needy strangers on the streets.

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Activists pursue the right to health in Nepal during Covid-19

As a new surge in cases overwhelms the South Asian country, people are forced to rely on a frail healthcare system and a government remiss in its duties to uphold their right to health

Getting oxygen treatment for Covid-19 in Nepal, May 2021. © Amit Machamasi/Nepali Times

On 3 May, Lok Bahadur Pariyar, 45, arrived at his local pharmacy in southern Nepal complaining of breathing difficulties. He told the pharmacist that he had been suffering from fever, severe body aches, and cold symptoms in recent days.

Suspecting COVID-19, the pharmacist called an ambulance to take Pariyar to the hospital. The next day, when the pharmacist opened his shop, he was surprised to see the man standing outside. He told him he had visited three hospitals the day before and all had turned him away.

Pariyar sat down to catch his breath, and died soon after.

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No magic pill for Nepali women who give birth at home

A lifesaving drug cannot fix the sorts of systemic maternal health issues that I saw on a trip to one village

A screenshot from the Nepal Now podcast episode on misoprostol.

Almost exactly one year ago Nepal’s health department called an urgent meeting of its partners working in maternal health to ask if any of them could supply misoprostol, a drug used to stop excessive bleeding after childbirth. The Covid-19 lockdown had strangled supply and women in rural Nepal were reportedly dying for lack of the drug.

It took nearly six months for a 1-year supply of misoprostol to arrive via the UN Population Fund and an international non-profit, One Heart Worldwide (OHW), again as a result of the pandemic battering global supply chains. I read about this emergency and wanted to track the pills to their end users—women living in Nepal’s villages who were likely to give birth at home without a skilled birth attendant.

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A healthy diet includes social and economic support

I’ve been reading about social determinants of health for some years now, but I had to see this phenomenon in practice before I truly ‘got it’.

A nurse describes the importance of drinking milk at a recent class for guardians of malnourished children at the Nutrition Home in Kathmandu. ©Marty Logan

It’s one thing to understand an issue or fact intellectually, another to experience it first-hand. That’s been made clear to me twice recently concerning health care here in Nepal and what are sometimes called ‘social determinants of health.’

One of my current projects is reporting about malnutrition during Covid-19. I contacted the Nutrition Home close to Kathmandu hoping to speak to the guardian of a child who had been admitted because they were malnourished.

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The people to the rescue in Nepal

The homepage of the citizens’-led Covid Connect Nepal initiative on 17 May. 160 volunteers are working around the clock.

There is no way to sugarcoat this – Nepal is being hammered by Covid-19. Just as in its giant neighbour, places such as the capital Kathmandu and cities bordering India have run out of intensive-care hospital beds and oxygen, extra cremation sites have been set up on the banks of rivers and fewer than 5% of people have been vaccinated, with no new jabs in sight.

Yet, as I’ve written before and talked about on the Nepal Now podcast, it is ordinary people who have stepped up to stop things from getting much much worse, while the politicians turned away from the dead and dying to engage in political power plays, as reported by Nepali Times.

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Can a developing country ‘build back better’?

Researcher Sijal Pokhrel.

Globally there are signs that some countries are taking policy decisions that will advance sustainable development post-Covid-19, including the United States under the new Biden administration, but as a non-expert I feel pretty confident to say the evidence is inconclusive that the world will be on a greener path.

So given how hard it seems to be for rich countries to turn that corner, it seems unlikely that a ‘developing’ country like Nepal could make it happen. Although it was progressing before the pandemic, the challenges were enormous and included climate change (evidenced by melting glaciers) high unemployment that was sending more and more young people abroad to find work, and stalled progress in terms of mother and child health after decades of impressive results.

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Roadbuilding for development: who wins and who loses?

A map of the road in Nepal’s Humla district, bordering Tibet, studied by researcher Phurwa Dhondup.

Roads lead to development: they link remote places with markets, hospitals and schools, says one side of the argument. Roads ruin the unique nature of untouched places, reducing an already too homogeneous world to sameness, retorts the other side.

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Government says warning shots killed two in Nepal cases probed by UN

Excerpt from a summary of the communication from the UN special rapporteurs, dated 18 November 2020

Warning shots fired into the air by police to control mobs were responsible for two deaths being probed by United Nations human rights experts, according to the Government of Nepal. 

Both Rafikul Alam of Jhapa and Suraj Kumar Pandey of Kapilvastu were “unfortunate” victims of police attempts to control mobs, wrote the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN in Geneva in a response to the experts, also known as special rapporteurs, on 10 February.

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Nepal’s revised rape law a setback

Advocates for women were excited late in 2020 when they heard that changes were coming to Nepal’s rape law, which has long been criticized as ineffective. For example, youth activists who had met with the attorney general and other lawmakers were energized and excited by the process, as reported on my podcast, Nepal Now.

But when the ordinance containing the revisions was signed by the president, not all of the rumoured improvements were there. Left out was removal of the statute of limitations that says a rape charge must be filed within one year and broadening of the scope of victims of rape to include men, boys and persons of other genders.

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Truth and reparations are also justice for victims of Nepal’s conflict

It brings the urgency to seek justice even closer when family members are reminded of that small detail that they had forgotten over the years.”

— Pooja pant, memory, truth and justice project

To its credit, the Nepali media has written regularly about successive governments’ lack of action on transitional justice since the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in 2006. Reporting has focused on the legal framework, which in 2015 Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled must be revised because it granted amnesty for the most serious crimes of the conflict.

In the civil war, from 1996 to 2006, the state and Maoists combined to kill 17,000 Nepalis, torturing and disappearing thousands more.

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