Covid-19 in Nepal

My heart aches when I think of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal. The situation is dire, worse than in neighboring India.

The latest data I’ve seen (e.g., from Our World in Data) shows a positivity rate in Nepal standing at 47%, meaning that many cases are missed and every other person is infected. The full vaccination rate is 1%. There is little chance to get shots unless the US steps up.

Several of my colleagues have had or currently have COVID-19, including one former student, various colleagues, and several attendees at workshops I led there.

On a recent video call, two people failed to show up because they were sick, one didn’t come because his mother was ill, one just didn’t show up. One showed up but was sick and didn’t say much. Only one was healthy.

The airport is now shut down, so it’s difficult to get oxygen. The health system is overrun. A colleague I trust, Shisir Khanal, has started a GoFundMe: Help People Breathe: Oxygen For Tulsipur to buy oxygen or concentrators. Efforts like that are important, but much more is needed.

The country’s only zoo in Jawalakhel was shut for 10 months due to the pandemic. After reopening, a cap of about a quarter of the usual number of visitors has been imposed. Not surprisingly, the zoo has struggled to stay afloat since it depends heavily on visitor fees. Now, it appears that they may not be able to pay staff or feed the animals.

The only hope may be a new Adopt-an-animal program. Would you like to save an Asian elephant, a one-horned rhino, or a royal Bengal tiger?

The US should treat COVID-19 as a global problem, not simply one of public health in within the US. It is a moral imperative to help Nepal (and other countries), but it also makes sense from the most selfish perspective.

People in the US are celebrating that COVID-19 seems to be at bay. But as the tale in India and other countries shows, early confidence is often undercut by the realities of the virus. The pandemic continues to rage in Nepal, India, other parts of Asia, South America, and Africa.

Widespread infection ignores national boundaries. New variants are not just possible, but inevitable, putting every person on the planet at risk. If we don’t stop the spread, the pandemic can easily return worse than ever in the US. At best it will haunt us for a very long time.

A TRIPS waiver to stop COVID-19

As you may know, a major barrier delaying international distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is intellectual property restrictions. Biden could remove that barrier by supporting a TRIPS Waiver.

Such a move is supported by many organizations such as Oxfam, Medicins san Frontieres, and Human Rights Watch. Without it, the pandemic will continue, quite likely increasing, and new lethal variants are certain to arise.

A TRIPS waiver is important to save perhaps millions of lives worldwide, but also for bringing the pandemic under control in the US.