In the context of the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases in Nepal, the Embassy of Nepal in Washington, D.C. is continuously engaged in diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to secure possible supply of vaccines, and critically needed medical items to Nepal.
i. Vaccines support
The Embassy is pursuing Nepal’s request for the US vaccines support through the Right Honorable President’s letter, the then Hon. Foreign Minister’s telephone conversation as well as various letters forwarded to the State Department and the US Embassy in Kathmandu. The Embassy is in regular contact with the Department of State/USAID regarding the US cooperation in fighting the pandemic. Nepal has prioritized vaccines support from the US taking into account the pressing timeline for second dose of vaccines for those who got the first dose and the need to protect more vulnerable people on priority basis. In this connection, the Ambassador has had several virtual meetings with senior officials at the State Department during which he has apprised them of the urgency of the support for Nepal. The US Government has assured that it has prioritized Nepal in its vaccine sharing plans for needy countries.
On June 3, 2021, the White House announced framework for sharing 80 million vaccine doses at its disposal among low income countries, along with a plan to distribute 25 million doses through immediate deliveries, possibly within June. Out of the 25 million doses, Asia Pacific region, including Nepal are allocated 7 million. The announcement says that the share of support for Nepal will be channeled through COVAX facility.
On June 21, 2021, the White House made its second announcement on vaccine distribution plan with additional 55 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as the next tranche, out of 80 million doses initially announced. According to the plan, out of the 55 million doses, 16 million are to be distributed through COVAX among 17 Asian countries including Nepal and the Pacific Islands. The announcement mentions that the distribution of 55 million doses is likely to start from August this year. The total US vaccine support doses available for the group of 17 Asian and the Pacific Island countries, including Nepal, has now reached 23 million. However, as of today, it has not been clear how much each country, including Nepal, will get out of the total 23 million doses. The Embassy is putting forward its case with the US side for more vaccine doses to Nepal on the basis of prevalent higher case incidence and its income status.
President Bhandari’s letter to President Biden: President of Nepal, Right Honorable Bidya Devi Bhandari’s letter addressed to the President of the United States His Excellency Joseph R. Biden, Jr., regarding Nepal’s request for vaccine support was handed over by Ambassador H.E. Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada to Mr. Ervin Massinga, State Department’s Senior Advisor, in an in-person meeting at the State Department on May 28, 2021. During the meeting, Ambassador Khatiwada briefed Mr. Massinga the latest pandemic situation in Nepal and Nepal’s vaccination plan. He reiterated Nepal’s request for vaccine support from the US Government. Nepal expects a generous amount of vaccine doses in light of the close and long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries and the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Nepal. Ambassador Khatiwada shared Nepal’s interest to buy J & J vaccines from Janssen Infectious Diseases and Vaccines Pharmaceutical Company. Mr. Massinga assured that the US Government deeply sympathizes with Nepal’s current pandemic situation, and that it will expedite the process, as far as possible, for the allocation of a fair share of vaccine doses to Nepal through the COVAX and bilateral arrangements.
Telephone conversation between Foreign Minister Gyawali and the Deputy Secretary of State Sherman: On May 23, 2021, Foreign Minister Hon. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali held a telephone conversation with Her Excellency Wendy Sherman, the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States of America. Minister Gyawali conveyed the gratitude of the Government of Nepal to the United States for the generous COVID-related cooperation, which helped scale up national capacity to address the pandemic. Commending the US leadership in garnering collaborative response against the global pandemic, the Foreign Minister requested the Deputy Secretary of State to accord due priority to Nepal during the distribution of surplus vaccines among the developing nations. Deputy Secretary Sherman assured that the new US Administration will continue to extend cooperation in Nepal’s socio economic sector, including the recent fight against the pandemic. The two sides also agreed to accelerate economic partnerships in view of the uphill task of post-COVID recovery.
Ambassador Khatiwada’s meeting with DAS Laura Stone: On May 21, 2021, Ambassador H.E. Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada had a video conversation with Ms. Laura Stone, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the US Department of State The Ambassador requested for the facilitation from the US Government agencies, including Department of Health and Human Services on Government of Nepal’s endeavor to purchase minimum 5 million doses of vaccines from Janssen Infectious Diseases and Vaccines Pharmaceutical Company. DAS Stone assured the Ambassador of full cooperation on Nepal’s request for the commercial purchase of vaccines from Jansen. The Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) has decided to purchase J&J vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Department of Health Services (DOHS) of Nepal is in contact with the company. The Embassy is facilitating the contacts between the DOHS and the Johnson & Johnson.
Briefing by the State Department on COVID-19: On May 20, 2021, the Ambassador attended a briefing on COVID-19 cooperation for Chiefs of mission of the Embassies from South Asian and Central Asian countries organized by the Office of the Chief of Protocol and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the Department of State. Ms. Gayle E. Smith, Coordinator of the Global COVID Response and Health Security and Mr. Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the Department of State briefed the participants on the initiatives taken by the US Government to respond to the pandemic in the region.
During the briefing, the Ambassador expressed the hope that the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s resolution of May 19 on COVID support to India, including Nepal would help expedite vaccines and critical medical supplies to Nepal. Additionally, he also requested the US side to make a match between the prioritized materials critically needed in Nepal and the materials to be provided by the US side. The US officials have shared that allocation of AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine is subject to pending safety review from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Ambassador Khatiwada’s meeting with Mr. Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary of State:
On June 30, 2021, Ambassador Khatiwada met with Mr. Dean Thompson, Acting Assistant Secretary (AAS), Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of the US Department of State and exchanged views on matters of common concern including the US vaccine support to Nepal. During the meeting, the Ambassador expressed his hope that as a long-standing and close friend, Nepal will receive a fair and equitable share of US vaccines support through COVAX. He shared that given the country’s open border, alarmingly high number of cases in the recent weeks and the country’s low income status, Nepal is particularly more vulnerable to possible COVID-19 surges in the coming days.
ii. Vaccines procurement: The Embassy has requested J&J and Moderna regarding our intention to purchase 5 million J&J doses and 2 million Moderna vaccines.
J&J: The Embassy coordinated a virtual meeting between the Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) and Johnson & Johnson on June 17, 2021 regarding Nepal’s intention to purchase 5 million doses of J&J Vaccines. During the meeting the representatives of the company indicated that there is less likelihood for J&J to sign new purchase agreements before 2022 due to issues related to the supply chain. The ambassador, however, has requested the company to supply Nepal the vaccines keeping in view Nepal’s current pandemic situation, limited doses of vaccines required and the possibility of phase-wise supply of vaccines. J&J representatives have assured that Nepal’s case will be reported to their global leadership.
Moderna: In response to the Embassy’s approach to Moderna for the purchase of 2 million vaccine doses, the company has responded that the company is not in a position to supply its vaccines on commercial basis until the next year due to issues related to global supply chain.
NOVAVAX: A Baltimore based pharmaceutical company; NOVAVAX has recently carried out a successful trial of its vaccine and is now waiting for FDA clearance. However, they too cited their commitment to COVAX and expressed inability to make commercial supply to Nepal in the near term.
The World Bank is positive about assisting Nepal in the financing of vaccines.
- Response by the US Congress
Ambassador has held several video conferences as well as in-person meetings with Congressmen, Council Members, politicians, former US ambassadors, NRNA, Nepali Societies and non-government organizations to lobby for timely COVID related support to Nepal. Some of them have already made appeals to the US Congress and the administration for extending support to Nepal.
The efforts of the Embassy and several organizations to draw attention of the US congressmen to Nepal’s deepening COVID-19 crisis has brought some success as some Congressmen have expressed their concerns over alarmingly number of COVID cases in Nepal and voiced their support for the US emergency assistance to Nepal to fight with the pandemic in their remarks in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As a result of several initiatives, the foreign relations Committee passed a resolution on 19th May 2021 on recognizing the Devastating Impact of COVID 19 in India with amendment to include Nepal and other bordering countries in the Resolution to make expedited assistance with the initiatives of some American Nepali. It is expected that the US government will consider Nepal in its urgent support list on COVID 19.
- Medical supplies:
i. The US Government: So far, four USAID relief flights have landed in Kathmandu with essential medical supplies; the USAID handed over 1,000 oxygen cylinders to the Ministry of Health and Population
The Department of Defense (DoD) has funded $5.8 Million delivering various COVID related support to Nepal on various dates.
The US Government has announced that so far, a total of $50 Million worth of COVID related support has been extended by the US Government to Nepal, in addition to its commitments through multilateral channels.
ii. NGOs and Nepali diaspora:
In coordination with the Embassy, various Organizations including NRNA NCC-USA, Nepal-USA Medical Association, Central Ohio Nepali Association, Nepal Seattle Society, etc. have written letters to their representatives in the US Congress on various dates appealing for sufficient allocation of vaccines and urgent delivery of critically needed medical supplies.
- Nepali Diaspora
On May 23, 2021, Ambassador H.E. Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada held a virtual meeting among the representatives of Nepali community organizations in the United States to discuss on COVID-19 relief efforts. He thanked all Nepali community organizations, individuals, NGOs, charity organizations for their contributions to fight the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in Nepal. He briefed the participants about the efforts made by the Embassy at the diplomatic, political and other levels. Representatives of the Nepali community organizations shared their ongoing efforts to deliver much needed critical medical supplies to Nepal through their respective organizations. Ambassador Khatiwada urged the community leaders to mobilize resources from their respective organizations in a coordinated and consolidated approach.
The Embassy is in constant touch with Nepali Diaspora and INGOs in the US and has urged them to supply Nepal with critical prioritized medical items. The Embassy has received commitment for support from various quarters; some of them being interested in handing over the goods to their concerned organizations and places rather than going through the MOHP, others requesting the embassy to manage freight and other logistics to send the donated materials to Nepal. The Embassy has asked them to follow the directives issued by the Government of Nepal and has been coordinating on the matters related to freight, customs clearance, handover procedures and distribution of such materials.
The Embassy has encouraged all helping hands to contact the Embassy focal person for updated information, facilitation and coordination on COVID related support.
Interests shown by various community organizations: Various organizations and individual have expressed interests to the Embassy in sending medical items for COVID-19 relief to Nepal. Nepal COVID-19 Relief Initiative (NCRI) have been launched together by various Nepali community organizations in the US such as Nepalese Association of Houston (NAH), Society of Texas, America Nepal Medical Foundation, Society of American-Nepalese Nurses, Danfe Foundation, Nepalese American Chamber of Commerce and Honorary Consulate of Nepal in California. Embassy facilitated these initiatives including on matters related to logistics, customs clearances and flight permissions.
In connection with leading the mobile consular services camps of the Embassy in Chicago, Illinois from April 16-18, and in Dallas, and Houston, Texas from May 14-17, Ambassador had interaction with local Nepali community organizations, business persons, chamber leaders, politicians and city officials/representatives during which he appealed for support in supplying of critically needed medical items to Nepal.
Direct Relief, an US based popular Charity, sent humanitarian medical relief flight, landed in Kathmandu on May 28, 2021 carrying $3.09 Million worth medical items including 1 Ventilator, 860 Oxygen Concentrators, essential medicines and other medical itemshas sent medical supplies including a ventilator, and 860 oxygen concentrators. Sewa International has sent 98 units of 5 ltr oxygen concentrators, 8 units of 10 ltr oxygen concentrators and 780 pulse oximeters. Community Partnership International has sent 130 units of 5 ltr. Global Growth & Opportunity, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has allocated USD 650K to Nepal to support COVID-19 related efforts.
The Gradian Health Systems from the USA donated 50 ventilators to the National Innovation Center, Nepal. The Society of American Nepalese Nurses (SANN) has paid for the transportation of these ventilators. The NIC coordinated this effort and America Nepal Medical Foundation (ANMF) will assist with the training of these ventilators in Nepal.
5. Dedicated COVID-19 page on the Embassy website
The embassy has created a separate COVID-19 page on its website to disseminate useful information among the public on COVID-19 and coordinate relief efforts among stakeholders such as the US-based NGOs, charity organizations, Nepali community members and the private sector. The website page contains (i) our work so far with daily updates, (ii) MoHP notices and health service priorities, (iii) MoFA directives on COVID matters, (iv) CCMC, and Cabinet decisions on COVID, (v) Immigration Department directives on visas and entry to Nepal, (vi) CAAN guidelines and regulations on flight and civil aviation, (vii) NGOs in touch with Embassy on Covidsupport and their address for network to others, (viii) NRNA link and their coordination, (ix) link and phones of organizations engaged in the relief campaign so far, and (x) COVID focal point in the Embassy.
The embassy has invited all the organizations and individuals who have expressed desires to help Nepal to be linked through the Embassy’s network for further facilitation and coordination.