We spoke with Sanju Thapa Magar (Ageing Nepal, HelpAge Network member) about the problems that older people are facing in the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal, and access to vaccines.
“The situation in Nepal is very difficult right now. There are over 600,000 COVID-19 cases in Nepal and more than 8,500 have died, which is a huge number.
The first round of vaccinations has been going on for a long time, but the distribution of vaccines is very uneven. Older people are prioritised on paper, but not in reality.
In rural areas, many older people have not even received their first dose. But the situation is not much better in urban areas. My 67-year-old boss, who lives in the capital Kathmandu, only received his first dose a couple of days ago, so you can imagine what the situation is like for rural older people and other groups at risk.
At the start there was some initial hesitancy about the vaccines and rumours were spreading that they cause harm. But people are starting to understand the importance of vaccines and are more willing to take them. But the trouble is that there is now a severe shortage of vaccines.
To make matters worse, it is really hard to get a vaccine. People have to go to a distribution point, where they have to stand in queues and risk getting infected. I don’t think it’s a safe way to provide vaccines.
Many older people who live in care facilities have not been vaccinated yet.
We are still in lockdown, although some restrictions have been lifted recently.
The poorest older people are facing severe problems, like older people who work as vendors and have lost their work due to COVID and the lockdown. Some NGOs and private organisations provide food daily, but I don’t think that there is enough for everybody who needs it. Similarly, many old age homes are facing food shortage for the residents. Ageing Nepal has been able to support a few of them.
To make matters worse, older people in rural areas face many other issues. The rainy season has begun in Nepal and thousands of homes have been flooded recently. I am sure that older people suffered most, because they could not leave their homes and travel to other areas, like younger people.
I do not know what our government is doing to ensure basic needs and protect older people in flooded areas from COVID-19 and the monsoon.
There are also many lonely older people in rural areas, whose young relatives have left to work in the city or abroad. There is no one to take care of them.
In the early stages, we got vaccines from India. But as COVID is now spreading so fast there that they are also suffering from a shortage of vaccines and can do less to help.
The reality is that there are not enough vaccines for everyone in Nepal and most people still have not been vaccinated. The government is asking other countries for the vaccine but even though we have had a positive response from Russia and the USA, we have not received the vaccines and the situation is rapidly worsening. Currently, we are only receiving vaccines from China.
The government must make every effort to make sure everyone has access to vaccines. It is their role and responsibility, and we want to see them actively doing that before even more people die.”
By Vitaliy Konovalov, Communications Manager