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Project HOPE, Airlink Rush COVID-19 Support to Nepal

Nepal has faced a devastating surge of COVID-19 this year, overwhelming hospitals and health systems near the India border. In partnership with Airlink, Project HOPE is delivering critically needed PPE and medical supplies to help Nepal’s health care workers respond.

This spring, health care workers across Nepal faced a devastating second wave of COVID-19. At the beginning of April, Nepal was reporting around 200 new cases of COVID-19 per day. By the first week in May, that number had soared to approximately 9,000 — an increase of more than 4,000%. In the span of just five weeks, there were more than 100,000 known new cases in the country. The surge overwhelmed parts of Nepal’s health system, especially in the Lumbini province near the India border, where hospitals were forced to turn people away.

The deadly surge was exacerbated by a lack of access to the vaccine and serious shortages of supplies, including oxygen. Nepal has recorded more than 10,000 COVID-19 fatalities — a number that is likely much higher, and which is due, in large part, to a lack of oxygen and inadequate ICUs.

In other words, with sufficient supplies, many of these deaths could be prevented.

“What we’re seeing on the ground in Nepal is a painful example of how COVID-19 crises overwhelm already-stretched local health systems,” says Tom Cotter, Project HOPE’s director of emergency response and preparedness. “Even though the numbers of COVID-19 cases are now going down, there are still not enough resources here to prepare for a potential third wave.”

To help health care workers respond to the dramatic spread of the disease, Project HOPE began coordinating with local partners and government officials in Nepal to locally procure personal protective equipment, oxygen, and critically needed medical equipment. In July, Project HOPE partnered with Airlink to airlift more than 100 pallets of PPE and medical supplies to health care centers in Nepal.

“While India was experiencing a massive surge in cases, so was Nepal, and that created a shortage of everything from hospital beds to basic medical supplies and personal protective equipment, putting a significant strain on the Nepalese health care system — especially in areas bordering India, like Lumbini,” says Stephanie Steege, Airlink’s director of humanitarian programs.

“We hope that this shipment will help regional health systems manage the current demands as this wave comes to an end, as well as prepare hospitals and clinics for the next wave of COVID-19,” she says. “The mix of medical supplies that Airlink and our partners were able to move on behalf of Project HOPE included hospital beds and more than 1.7 million pieces of PPE. We estimate that this shipment is enough medical equipment to assist up to 900,000 people, including both patients and providers.”

Workers unload Airlink shipment of PPE in Nepal
Workers unload a shipment of PPE and supplies during a surge of COVID-19 in July. Photo courtesy Pratiman-Neema Memorial Foundation, 2021.

Project HOPE is working with local NGO Pratiman-Neema Memorial Foundation (PNMF) to distribute medical supplies and equipment to health systems inside Nepal. To date, nine provincial and district government hospitals in eight districts of Lumbini have received lifesaving medical equipment including oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, BiPap machines, PPE, masks, ICU beds, and medical tents.

For some, like those living in the remote district of Palpa, this was the very first relief they’ve received in the year-and-a-half since the virus hit. The PNMF team drove eight hours of rough roads to reach the hospital.

“The head of the Palpa Rampur Hospital was touched and expressed deep gratitude for the support,” says Project HOPE’s Emilija Dukovski, a member of our emergency response team. “He said that this was the only help they received from the beginning of the crisis.”

Emergency transports of patients from this area are “almost impossible,” Dukovski says, while landslides in the rainy season make it even harder to come or go. This delivery — of PPE, beds, and other supplies — could mean life or death for the 35,000 people who depend on the hospital, and for the health workers who work there.

“Protecting health care workers from COVID-19 is critical to limiting the spread of infections and preventing local health systems from being overwhelmed, which impacts health outcomes for patients across the board,” Steege says.

After a devastating second wave of COVID-19, and with just 13% of Nepal’s population vaccinated, health care workers are now bracing for a third wave that could once again overwhelm the country’s health care system.

Project HOPE's Emilija Dukovski on the ground supporting our COVID-19 response in Nepal
In partnership with Airlink, Project HOPE is helping Nepal’s health care workers prepare future surges of COVID-19. “Our support will have a significant impact on the way patients are treated, especially now, facing the new challenges of a third wave,” says Project HOPE’s Emilija Dukovski, center. Photo courtesy Pratiman-Neeman Memorial Foundation, 2021.

The needs remain many, Dukovski says, including more personnel, more ventilators for children, and more beds. But the most urgent need is vaccines. In addition to delivering aid, Project HOPE has provided vaccination training for more than 4,580 frontline health care workers representing all seven of Nepal’s provinces.

“Our support will have a significant impact on the way patients are treated, especially now, facing the new challenges of a third wave,” Dukovski says. “And as hospitals are filling up with patients, the additional capacities enabled by the donation of hospital tents and beds will be very much used and will allow the hospitals not to leave anyone behind.”

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