28 May 2021 - Nepal

Save the Children warns Nepal faces “lethal cocktail” of testing and oxygen shortages as vaccine drive stalls

Health worker carries COVID-19 test samples, Nepal, May 2021

The combination of testing and oxygen shortages, a critically fragile health system and vaccination efforts at a standstill, has Nepal facing a crisis scenario with thousands of lives at risk, Save the Children warned today.

Nepal has surpassed India in terms of COVID-19 deaths per capita, and is far ahead of other South Asian countries. With PCR testing capacity limited to only 22,000 per day, and with supplies of test kits running low, humanitarian organisations are concerned that COVID-19 cases are very likely seriously underreported.

Vaccination supplies remain uncertain, and earlier this week the COVAX facility is reported to have told the government that it will not be able to provide jabs before next year.

Save the Children is deeply concerned about the impact of the worsening crisis on children. Many have lost parents to the virus or are at risk of being pushed even deeper into poverty or hunger as a result of lost family incomes. Children in Nepal have now been out of school for over a month in this second wave and with many unable to access remote learning, Save the Children warned that a whole generation of children is at risk of being held back.

Strict lockdown measures have been introduced from 29 April across most of the country and were tightened even further on 28 May with grocery shops ordered to close for the first time, except for a short window each day.

Jennifer Syed, Country Director of Save the Children in Nepal, said:

With supplies of testing kits running dangerously low and the vaccination drive at a standstill, Nepal is facing a crisis scenario with thousands of lives at risk. Oxygen is still in short supply in many districts and, while the last few days has seen some improvements in Kathmandu valley, the situation in many provinces remains desperate.”

“We’re concerned that this lethal cocktail of shortages could quickly spiral into chaos, and, as with any crisis, it is children who will bear the brunt. Even before this deadly second wave, the virus had already deepened the poverty of thousands of families, especially those reliant on daily wages. The economic impact on households hurts children the most – they’re the ones who suffer the worst malnutrition; it’s the young girls who are forced into child marriage to reduce the financial burden on their family. The longer this crisis goes on, the longer children will be out of school, which means even more are at risk of not being able to break the cycle of poverty.”

“Save the Children is providing testing kits and vital supplies of oxygen where possible, as well as other life-saving equipment for hospitals and quarantine centres. We’re also teaching children and their families how to protect themselves from COVID-19. We’re calling on the international community to fast track the supply of vaccines by donating their oversupply, allowing the Government to restart vaccinations.”

Save the Children is donating 20,700 rapid test kits to the Nepal government to support testing efforts, and will donate 52 oxygen concentrators as well as other essential medical equipment to health facilities. A further 100,000 PRC test kits, 200,000 rapid test kits and 1,000 oxygen concentrators will be given to the Ministry of Health and Population under agreement with the Global Fund. It also continues to support children by creating child-friendly public campaigns on COVID-19 safety and providing mental health support during lockdown.

For any questions or to request interviews please contact:

Charlotte Rose, charlotte.rose@savethechildren.org

Ian Woolverton, ianwoolverton@gmail.com 

Out-of-hours (GMT) media@savethechildren.org.uk; +44 7831 650 409

Images available here: https://www.contenthubsavethechildren.org/Package/2O4C2SC0WIVE