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Covid cases overwhelm Nepal’s medical services

18 May 2021

High death rate is due to lack of oxygen and ICUs, says pastor


People wait outside a crematorium in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the bodies of their relatives to arrive on Sunday

People wait outside a crematorium in Kathmandu, Nepal, for the bodies of their relatives to arrive on Sunday

COVID-19 patients are dying within days of contracting the virus in Nepal, as cases surge dramatically and the country struggles with a shortage of oxygen.

The new variant of Covid has spread across the border from India (News, 14 May), and the same scenes seen in India are being repeated in Nepal, where medical facilities are even sparser. About 9000 people are testing positive each day, and hundreds of deaths are reported daily

Pastor Ruben Rasaili, who works with the Christian charity Feed the Hungry in Nepal, said on Monday that fellow pastors were falling ill and dying around him.

“People are suffering worse than ever. I have lost my 12 friends, all pastors, with whom I did ministry together. I have been hearing 44 key pastors of Kathmandu valley are infected and fighting for life and death. When you go to roads, you will see ambulances carrying dead bodies or severe patients.

“About 90 per cent of people who are dying are due to not getting beds, oxygen, ICU in the hospitals at the right time.”

When his father fell ill with Covid, he was turned away by many hospitals before a bed was found, and he was allowed to use oxygen only until another patient needed it. Feed the Hungry bought more oxygen for the hospital, and his father has now recovered, Mr Rasaili said.

“Uttam, who was taking care of my father during his treatment, told me that, in 12 days in the hospitals, over 200 Covid patients were dead because of not getting oxygen machines at the right time.

“Nepal desperately needs prayers right now, and support more than ever. Just last week, I lost my uncle by Covid because he could not go to the hospital. My wife and I have saved about $2000 for the past some years; we spent all on my father’s treatment.

“Please pray for us. If there is some help you can do, send it to us. Every day, Covid is rising. If this keeps going, we will lose millions of people.”

Mission for Tribes and Nations, which is based in Nepal, is providing ambulances to take people to find a hospital bed, and food packs for isolating families and those unable to work. Appealing for donations for Nepal, it said that, with the new variant, “people are dying within three days of contracting the virus”.

“The health-care system is struggling to cope with the situation, and coronavirus is out of control throughout Nepal’s cities and districts, even with lockdown and prohibitory orders in place.”

The Prime Minister of Nepal, K. P. Sharma Oli, wrote in The Guardian last week to ask for help, saying that his country’s health-care system was overwhelmed. He urged the UK Government to remember the “close historical ties” between the two countries.

The vaccination rate in Nepal is low, and only about seven per cent of the population have so far received one injection. Its vaccine programme has been halted, as in many other countries, because the supply of vaccine has dried up.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that the situation in Nepal was an example of the “gross distortion in access to vaccines across the globe”. He urged rich countries that were now vaccinating lower-risk groups to donate the vaccines instead to the multi-lateral vaccine-sharing programme COVAX (News, 26 March).

India’s exports of the vaccine have been temporarily halted while it rushes to inoculate its own citizens. It experienced its most deaths in a day — 4329 — this week just as the infection rate showed signs of falling.

Vatican News said that an average of four Roman Catholic priests had died every day from Covid in India in the past five weeks. At least 160 priests were known to have died between 10 April and 17 May, as well as three bishops who had also died from the virus in the country’s second wave. More than 60 of the deaths were among members of religious orders, and include 24 Jesuits.

“Many priests are dying for want of timely medical care. It is a horrific situation,” the RC Bishop of Jabalpur, the Most Revd Gerald Almeida, said.

After one of his priests died in the first wave last year, the Bishop set up a quarantine centre for to look after nuns and priests who have the virus. It is currently treating 26 nuns and 14 priests.

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