Embassy’s initiatives on COVID-19 related matters as of May 28, 2021

In the context of the ongoing grave humanitarian situation created by the alarming 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.

Vaccine support

The Embassy is pursuing Nepal’s efforts to secure vaccines support from the USA. The Embassy is regularly following up on Nepal’s request to the Department of State/USAID for AstraZeneca (AZ)vaccine. The Embassy has requested for the vaccines taking into account the pressing timeline for second dose of vaccines for those who got the first dose and the need to cover more vulnerable people by the vaccine. Ambassador has had virtual meetings with senior officials at the State Department and has apprised them of the urgent support needed. USAID officials have shared that given the worsening situation in Nepal, US side will prioritize Nepal in distributing vaccines and medical supplies. Likewise, US officials have also hinted that the first batch vaccines may likely be dispatched prior to the G-7 meeting which is going to take place in the second week of June in the UK, subject to safety approval for the vaccine by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

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 to Mr. Massinga Nepal’s request for vaccine support from the US Government. Nepal expects a generous amount of AZ vaccine doses in light of the close and long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries and the recent alarming 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 pandemicsituation, and that it will expedite the process, as far as possible, for the allocation of a fair share of the AZ 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 the 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. The Embassy has also requested the US Government to facilitate the purchase by easing any relevant controls on the export of the vaccine.

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. During the briefing, 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 shared that allocation of AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine is subject to pending safety review from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and also in the consideration by the National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).The Embassy has urged that the allocation be made as early as possible; as even a single day’s earlier actions in this initiative would save many more lives. In the context of President Biden’s announcement to distribute 80 million vaccines, including earlier announced 60 million vaccines, among the needy countries, and given the ongoing humanitarian situation in Nepal and the close and long-standing relationship with the US, Nepal expects generous amount of vaccine doses under bilateral as well as COVAX arrangements. The White House has publicly shared that the first batch (10%) of AZ vaccine may be dispatched to needy countries by July 4, 2021. However, as of now the AZ vaccine is yet to get approval from Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Medical supplies

The Embassy has been in constant communication with the Department of State and USAID regarding all possible cooperation between the two countries on fighting COVID-19. 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. The Department of State has communicated to the Embassy that the US side is willing to provide Oxygen concentrators, antigen kits and PPEs to Nepal in the immediate term. Same request was forwarded to the USAID. On the Embassy’s request through a diplomatic note to the Department of State, the US side has committed to provide critical medical supplies to Nepal on an urgent basis.

Three USAID relief flights landed in Kathmandu with surgical masks, face shields, gloves and other medical supplies, the first on May 22, 2021 and and two flights on May 24, 2021. The USAID has hand over 1,000 oxygen cylinders to the Ministry of Health and Population on May 25, 2021. In the past three weeks, USAID has provided more than $15 million support for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, treatment, and infection prevention. USAID is also engaged in procuring oxygen related supplies and repairing oxygen-generating systems throughout the country. As announced by the US Government, the US COVID-19 related support to Nepal over the past 15 months has reached $50 million.

Department of Defense (DoD) has funded $5.8 Million COVID support so far supplying PPEs, breathing devices, high-flow oxygen therapy devices and other medical equipment, including $2.75 million worth  emergency funding to provide oxygen cylinders and liquid oxygen storage tanks announced by DoD on May 13, 2021. The Department of Defense (DoD), through the US Embassy in Kathmandu, handed over PPEs, breathing devices, isolation and disaster camp equipment and other supplies to the CCMC. The Embassy has been informed that in the near future, the US DoD has a plan to support equipment such as Bilevel or two-level Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAPS), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), and other oxygen therapy devices.

Lobbying with Congressmen and hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate

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.

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.

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.

Coordination with NGOs and Nepali Diaspora on Supplies of Essential Medical Goods

Humanitarian organization and NGOs

A humanitarian medical relief flight from Direct Relief, a US based popular humanitarian NGO, 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 items. Sewa International has shipped 98 units of 5 Ltr oxygen concentrators, 8 units of 10Ltr oxygen concentrators and 780 pulse oximeters to Nepal on May 28, 2021. Community Partnership International has sent 130 units of 5 Ltr. Concentrators through Direct relief. Global Growth & Opportunity, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has allocated USD 650K to Nepal to support COVID-19 related efforts.

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. So far, participating organizations and individuals have expressed interest to send medical supplies worth $800,000.00 including ventilator, concentrators etc. Embassy is facilitating theseinitiatives 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 and he has appealed them to support for supplying of critically needed medical items to Nepal. The Embassy’s call for coordinated support in COVID is getting momentum now.

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.