Nepal overcomes challenges to vaccinate population against Covid-19

By Sangam Prasai

Kathmandu, Feb 20 (EFE).- Despite the many challenges Nepal’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign faces in the form of its extreme orography that leave several regions of this country along the Himalayan mountain range almost cut off, vaccinations are progressing at a good pace thanks to the efforts of some healthcare workers.

The viral image of healthcare worker Leela Thapa carrying a 78-year-old woman to a vaccination center in a mountainous area on her back symbolized the difficulties that the Himalayan country is experiencing in trying to immunize its entire population.

“The old woman was initially reluctant to get vaccinated but when I told her that it would be difficult for her to get her senior citizen allowance, she agreed to get the vaccine,” said Thapa, who had to carry the woman on her back because she was unable to walk.

While for many in the country, this image exemplified the tireless efforts of the Nepalese authorities to vaccinate the population against coronavirus, according to experts, it also highlighted the problem of lack of access to health centers.

“The picture shows that our healthcare facilities are not accessible to all and (that) there is a lot to do,” former health secretary Dr. Kiran Regmi told EFE.

Health Ministry spokesperson Sangita Mishra believes that the Nepalese people face many challenges in accessing vaccines, of which the country now has sufficient doses unlike at the start of the campaign.

“Our main concern and focus now are on getting these vaccines to all corners of the country, including the remote mountain areas,” Mishra told EFE.

Nepal has so far vaccinated 60 percent of its 29.19 million inhabitants or 77 percent of its adult population.

The country has recorded 1.1 million Covid-19 infections and about 12,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Thapa’s story is not unique. Health service volunteer Birma Devi Kunwar has to carry a 30 kilogram vaccine fridge on her back for more than six hours along a remote mountain route in western Nepal’s Darchula district.

After traversing through treacherous hills and narrow roads, the 32-year-old arrives at her destination, the health center at Duhun, a tiny village located on the upper reaches of the district.

“I don’t have to carry it every day. I supply the vaccine from the district headquarters whenever it comes, mostly during the vaccination time,” Kunwar told EFE.

But this woman’s journey is not easy, especially during the winter, amid snow and low temperatures, and during the monsoon season, when landslides are frequent due to heavy rains.

“It’s difficult. It’s a risky trip. But it’s my job,” Kunwar said.

Kunwar works as support staff at the Pipalchauri Health Post, which meets the needs of small villages that are cut off by road and far from hospitals.

However, Ishwari Bhatta, the head of the health post, explained that the center is relatively accessible to the inhabitants of the area, “an hour’s walk for most of them.”

In other remote areas, people sometimes have to walk for days to get to health centers, but despite the difficulties, “people are willing to be vaccinated,” he said.

“In some places, we set up camps to vaccinate old people and people with disabilities,” he added.

Health authorities warn that women in poor and marginalized remote areas are not getting vaccinated, both due to a lack of transport and the need to take care of children.

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