Nepal is a small country in Asia that encompasses most of the Himalayan mountains. In May 2021, Nepal experienced an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and Nepal’s government could not contain cases without foreign assistance. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) responded to this need by sending airlifts of personal protective equipment and oxygen to help fight COVID-19. Airlifts from USAID have served to limit the poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With such support, it is possible to keep COVID-19 cases manageable while reducing poverty at the same time.
COVID-19 in Nepal
Nepal became the world’s fastest-growing hotspot for COVID-19 infections in May 2021. At the time, the country reported more than 513,000 cases and 6,300 deaths in a population of 29 million. Due to the rapid rate of infection, Nepal’s healthcare system was unable to accommodate such high numbers.
Vaccine accessibility was another issue for Nepal as only 7.3% of the population had received one dose of the vaccine as of May 25, 2021. With India bordered by Nepal, the vaccine shortage in India posed a major problem for Nepali citizens. In part, this was due to India’s government blocking vaccine exports as India needed to preserve its supply for Indian citizens. To solve this problem, foreign assistance was needed.
The dire situation in Nepal has severely hurt the economic welfare of its citizens. Recovery from COVID-19 in Nepal not only requires control of the infection rate but also economic support for the most affected citizens. Migrant workers who travel to India for work have accounted for a significant portion of the rise in cases.
Therefore, the COVID-19 surge in both India and Nepal has eliminated the primary source of income for many Nepali families. Nepal’s economy also suffers from a halted tourism industry, which previously generated a significant amount of revenue from the Himalayan mountains. Without the success of these crucial industries, Nepali families are at greater risk of sliding deeper into poverty.
Airlifts From USAID
USAID has had a long-standing relationship with Nepal. Over the last two decades, the organization has allotted $600 million in funding Nepal’s healthcare sector. To aid the currently overwhelmed medical system in Nepal, USAID responded by scheduling three airlifts to bring in medical supplies for healthcare workers. These airlifts are part of a recent $15 million aid package to the government of Nepal.
By May 2021, Nepal had received $50 million worth of COVID-19 assistance from USAID. The government estimates that this support has positively impacted 60% of Nepal’s population. Due to USAID’s COVID-19 support, Nepal has been able to perform nationwide COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Furthermore, the country has been able to treat COVID-19 patients more adequately.
In addition to medical supplies donated by USAID, the U.S. government has committed to sharing vaccine doses with Nepal. The U.S. government’s strategy for distributing vaccines includes a combination of direct donations and distribution through international organizations. U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, confirmed in early June 2021 that the U.S. will directly donate a portion of seven million vaccines to Nepal. The donation is part of an effort to assist Asia by distributing doses among 17 Asian nations.
The Effectiveness of Airlifts
COVID-19 has had a physical, mental and economic impact on Nepali citizens. Many Nepali citizens travel to India for work, but with travel restrictions in place, the people of Nepal face more instances of poverty. USAID has provided immense support for Nepal throughout the pandemic, especially during the resurgence of cases. Combined with a plan to distribute more vaccines to the country, foreign aid has played a significant role in helping Nepal fight COVID-19.
– Viola Chow