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India’s COVID-19 outbreak has spread to Nepal: NPR

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India’s COVID-19 outbreak has spread to neighboring Nepal, where it is straining an even smaller, less-resourced health system. The virus has also reached Mount Everest, where climbers have fallen ill.



Ari Shapiro, Host:

COVID-19 is still rampant in South Asia, and much attention has been paid to India, which has broken records of cases and deaths. But the situation in neighboring Nepal can be even worse. It is a very small country, but much of it is rugged mountainous terrain, with little medical care even in the best of times. NPR’s Lauren Fryer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: In Nepal’s capital under lockdown, Sreejana Karki is calling colleagues, trying to find out who has COVID-19.

Srijan Karki: Hello, Beenu.

Binu Subedi: (Speaking Nepali).

Karki: (Speaking Nepali).

Subedi: (Speaking Nepali).

Karki: (Speaking Nepali).

FRAYER: Karky runs the South Asia branch of World Neighbors, a development charity headquartered in Oklahoma. She works with communities high up in the Himalayas.

Karki: Like, there are four houses in one cluster, and another five houses in another cluster within a 20-minute walk. So it’s really, really hard. There is no test facility. They have to walk for three hours, and sick people cannot walk for three hours.

Fryer: In a large village of 64 families – mostly shepherds – half of them are sick.

Karki: Its symptoms are fever, cough and cold. And these people have abandoned their animals because they cannot take care of them. And then we finally managed to send some basic medicine.

FRAYER: Another World Neighbors employee, Binu Subedi, explains how.

Subedi: (Speaking Nepali).

FRAYER: She says the villagers hid in their homes when the medical staff came. They were told not to mix with outsiders who can bring coronavirus. Subedi helped him pass the exam by luring him. Six villagers were taken down the mountain and taken to the hospital. These are the challenges of battling one of the world’s most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in one of the world’s least developed countries.

Lhamo Yangchen Sherpa: We do not manufacture medicine in this country. We do not manufacture vaccines in this country.

FRAYER: Epidemiologist Lhamo Yangchen Sherpa says Nepal imports most of the essential items, including vaccines, from neighboring India. But India has stopped vaccine exports, so Nepal is almost finished, with less than 3% of its people vaccinated. And the infection has now spread to the highest point of the earth. At least 100 people have tested positive at Everest Base Camp near Nepal’s border with China, a trekking guide says.

Yangchen Sherpa: If we look at Mount Everest, you know, there is no road. Even some of the hospitals there have the support of Swiss donors. You know, there is no government hospital where there is ventilator, where there is ICU, where there is oxygen.

FRAYER: Foreign climbers can pay to visit Kathmandu. However, most locals cannot afford it. And even if they reach the capital, the hospitals there are overwhelmed.

Anoop Subedi: I’m, like, working till 2 in the morning.

FRAYER: Dr. Anoop Subedi – no relation to Beenu – is an infectious disease specialist in Kathmandu who says his phone is getting switched off. At midnight, people are calling him desperate and saying that please save my father. Please find us an ICU bed. And Subedi has to drive them away. His hospital is full.

SUBEDEE: We couldn’t advise them where to go, nor could we admit them to our hospital. That was something we couldn’t forgive ourselves for, either, you know? This is a condition for which we were not trained.

FRAYER: He and his colleagues never trained for a tragedy like this, he says. Subedi says that the number of cases in his private hospital in Kathmandu has started decreasing. But he says he can’t even imagine what it is like in the mountains.

Lauren Fryer, NPR News, Mumbai.

(Soundbite of Homeshake’s “All Night Long”)

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