Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris,
We are writing on behalf of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies (ANHS), the oldest academic institution in the United States devoted to the study of Nepal and the Himalayan region. Nepal is a country that tends to make headlines when disaster strikes - massive earthquakes, a Maoist insurgency, avalanches on Mt. Everest; yet media sensationalism is not helping the country during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. And, as Nepal faces what is arguably the most desperate humanitarian catastrophe in the modern history of the country, the media has been all but silent. Both urban and rural communities are reeling from a second wave, and the expected economic devastation and loss of life is difficult to comprehend. The country is in a precarious and dire situation. Crucially, despite the shortage of vaccines, Nepal is uniquely well suited to effectively and rapidly mobilize COVID-19 vaccine aid, based on decades of experience mounting prior vaccine campaigns through grassroots public health infrastructure, including its renowned Female Community Health Volunteer network.
We welcome your recent pledge to share vaccines with the rest of the world. To this end, we write to implore your administration to prioritize Nepal as a recipient of immediate vaccine aid. Supplying millions of doses of the vaccine directly to Nepal will not only help to mitigate the exigent crisis in the country, but it will also help flatten the curve in South Asia as a whole. We also support direct contributions to India and other South Asian countries that are facing their own crises (and thus cannot be counted on to share resources within the region). Along with further aid in the form of oxygen supply chain assistance, and essential supplies for facility and community health workers, vaccine diplomacy is urgently needed.
Below are some facts about the current situation in Nepal that warrant highlighting:
- Daily cases increased 2,900% between April 1 and April 30 [Source];
- As of May 18th, Nepal’s Ministry of Health has reported 8,136 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total # of cases to 472,354 [Source];
- Nepal currently has one of the highest COVID-19 viral reproduction rates in the world, with a national positivity ratio of 45% [Source], and reports consistently indicate a higher number of COVID cases statistically/per million population than that of India [Source];
- Less than 2% of Nepal’s population is fully vaccinated [Source];
- Nearly 2 million Nepalis have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine but have not had access to a second dose, increasing the possibility of virus mutation, with global epidemiological implications [Source];
- There are less than 2,000 ICU beds and less than 500 ventilators in the entire country [Source], setting the stage for a completely unmanageable healthcare systems scenario if the spread of the virus and its variants are not halted.
In some regions of Nepal, as many as 90% of tests have been returning positive. In all likelihood, the situation is far worse, as data from the most highly affected areas on the Indian border with Nepal are not forthcoming. Nepal’s Health Ministry has predicted that by July 15, new case numbers could reach 800,000, and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicts 40,000 deaths by then [Source], which would make Nepal the country with the highest fatality rate in South Asia by far.
Nepal has a proven track record of national vaccination initiatives and has a country-wide public health infrastructure to rapidly vaccinate its population. Nepal’s vaccination campaigns date back to fighting smallpox in 1816 [Source], and more recent successful campaigns include children under-5 in addition to high rates of BCG coverage, DPT, oral polio vaccine [Source], measles-rubella [Source; Source], and vitamin A supplementation [Source]. Despite being enveloped in a humanitarian crisis, Nepal has the capacity to handle the receipt and effective distribution of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses. Indeed, the country has already demonstrated the successful implementation of a multi-sectoral, phase-wise COVID-19 vaccination program, in even some of the most remote regions [Source]. Nepal’s renowned Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHVs) networks are 50,000+ strong, distributed throughout all of Nepal’s seven provinces, and can be deployed to help reach every household in cities and last mile settings alike.
As the U.S. sets its aim on the return to schools, family gatherings, and the daily social activities we hold so dear as a nation, let us not waiver in the face of the global ‘vaccine apartheid’ of which the WHO has rightfully warned [Source]. The uneven global distribution of and access to vaccines risks the very moral soul of the nation your administration has staked its reputation on. We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure the U.S. leads the way toward global social justice, and to see that Nepal is not forgotten - its people are calling to us, and we must not turn away.
In solidarity, and with hope for your assistance,
Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies
Below is a list of resources, data, petitions, and steps that can help amplify the call to action needed in this current moment.
- Sign & share the petitions:
- Call your representatives, particularly members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee & the Senators on the South Asia Subcommittee:
- Chris Murphy (Connecticut): DC Office: (202) 224-4041, Hartford Office: (860) 549-8463
- Todd Young (Indiana): DC Office: (202) 224-5623, Evansville: (317) 226-6700
- Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire): DC Office: (202) 224-2841, Manchester: (603) 647-7500
- Rand Paul (Kentucky): DC Office: (202) 224-4343, Bowling Green: (270) 782-8303
- Ed Markey (Massachusetts): DC Office: (202) 224-2742, Boston: (617) 565 8519
- Ted Cruz (Texas): DC Office: (202) 224-5922, Central Texas: (512) 916-5834
- Cory Booker (New Jersey): DC office: (202) 224-3224, Newark: (973) 639-8700
- Mitt Romney (Utah): DC Office: (202) 224-5251, Salt Lake City: (801) 524-4380
- Chris Van Hollen (Maryland): Constituent services: (301) 545-1500, General: (202) 224-4654
- Bill Hagerty (Tennessee): DC Office: (202) 224-4944, Chattanooga: (423) 752-5337
- Consider writing an Op-Ed for your local/university newspaper, or other outlets. Some instructive examples below:
- Nepal says its Covid response is under control – everyone can see it’s not true [Source]
- If South Asia’s pandemic isn’t addressed as a whole, India’s COVID-19 crisis could be just the beginning [Source]
- Facing a COVID Crisis, Nepal Cries Out for Help [Source]