A Leprosy Hospital’s Urgent Plea for Nepal’s Covid Vaccine Rollout

Leprosy patient Shova is given her first Covid vaccine at Anandaban Hospital

An urgent plea has been made to help a leprosy hospital roll out the Covid vaccine to Nepal’s most vulnerable people.

Nepal is now facing a more severe crisis than the earthquake of April 2015, which killed 9,000 people. While the country has reported almost 9,000 Covid deaths, public health experts believe this figure to be vastly underestimated.

Nepal is in the same desperate Covid situation that has played out in India over recent months with a deadly second wave taking hold.

Its crisis was deepened when India stopped exports of oxygen and the vaccine because of their own Covid crisis which cut off a lifeline to the people of Nepal.

Currently less than 2.5 million of Nepal’s 30 million population have received their first Covid jab – fewer than one in 10 people.

Mercifully vaccine supplies from COVAX are now reaching Anandaban, The Leprosy Mission’s hospital in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Chief Executive of The Leprosy Mission, Peter Waddup, and Dr Pradip Sapkota, Anandaban’s Medical Superintendent, who is leading the vaccination programme, have asked for donations so that they can administer as many vaccinations as they can procure.

Peter said:

My heart is broken for the people of Nepal as a second wave of Covid wreaks absolute havoc.

At The Leprosy Mission we feel an overwhelming responsibility to protect Nepal’s most vulnerable people living in poor and hard to reach communities.

Less than a fortnight ago we heard Nepal’s PM make an urgent plea to Britain to provide vaccines in their real hour of need. We are now asking people to give whatever they can so that the vaccines can go into the arms of those needing them the very most.

My colleagues at Anandaban’s registered Covid Vaccine Centre are prioritising communities affected by leprosy. These are some of the country’s poorest with very limited access to healthcare.

As ever these are the ‘forgotten’ people who need the vaccine the most. They are more likely to have weakened immune systems from living in poor conditions and suffer malnutrition. They are less likely to survive Covid because of this.

As we’ve seen in the UK, it is real race against time to get the Covid vaccines rolled out. Sadly, even more so in these Nepali communities where Covid threatens life two-fold. Firstly, from the virus and, secondly, starvation.”

Nepal has been in lockdown since the end of April. While this is a necessary measure to reduce the number of Covid infections, it is one that has seen day labourers suffer widespread hunger. Lockdown measures allow people to travel to Anandaban for vaccination.

The Leprosy Mission has worked closely with the Nepali government since the 2015 earthquakes. Anandaban Hospital became a designated Disaster Response Centre as a result of the exemplary treatment it provided for earthquake victims.

The hospital was among the first centres in Nepal to deliver the Covid vaccine. The roll-out began in January with 860 frontline health workers receiving the Oxford vaccine, manufactured in India. Government health staff and Leprosy Mission hospital staff, were included in this first group.

The roll-out has since been extended to other groups including clinically vulnerable people. Almost 15,000 Covid vaccines have been administered at Anandaban Hospital so far.

Dr Pradip said:

Many people who have received their first dose of the vaccine have crossed the 12-week mark without receiving their second dose.

There is a real urgency as vaccination is the only way to break the chain of infection. This will save the lives of disabled and vulnerable people.

I have witnessed the worse scenes I have seen as a doctor in these past few weeks. Covid is everywhere, in our hospital and badly hitting communities. People are hungry. We need the vaccine to end infection and end this time of crisis.”

A total of 1,036 patients have been treated at a 30-bed Covid isolation unit which opened at Anandaban Hospital in October. The facility, which houses a ventilator and respirators, was created thanks to a UK Aid grant. Many lives have been saved as a result.

A Covid testing laboratory is operating at the hospital’s Research Centre. The facility supports the entire community as well as protecting people affected by leprosy and disability. Hospital staff have relayed Covid messaging to 890,000 people living in hard to reach mountainous areas of Nepal. Emergency food parcels have been given to 3,250 vulnerable families and sanitation packs to 1,700 homes.

Peter said:

Unfortunately there just isn’t the money to continue the rollout without public support. This means many people will not receive their second dose and many thousands will be left unvaccinated.

I feel incredibly guilty that, thanks to our NHS and the good fortune of living in a wealthy country, I have had both my Covid jabs. But, as ever, it is the communities that The Leprosy Mission serves that, I believe, benefit from the protection of the vaccine the very most.

The roll out of the vaccine to the people we serve in the Kathmandu Valley can bring a new season. One, I pray, that will give them hope for the future and can see them prosper. I am immensely grateful to our incredible supporters for making it possible to roll out the vaccination programme in Nepal so far. But unfortunately it cannot continue without further help.”

£30 can ensure 24 people most at risk from Covid in Nepal are vaccinated.

Please visit leprosymission.org.uk to find out more or to give.

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