The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) launched its Covid-19 emergency appeal as soon as the WHO declared coronavirus a public health emergency. It was a measure initiated to aid its National Societies across the world to support governments and vulnerable communities in their fight against the virus.
IFRC’s Head of Country Delegation in Nepal, Azmat Ulla, emphasizes how collaboration between the IFRC, the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and the Nepal government helped make response efforts more efficient. “The Nepal Red Cross Society has been working closely with the Government of Nepal at various levels and with the help of its volunteers, relief and response have reached many people,” he says. Right through the pandemic, the IFRC and the NRCS have adopted a multi-pronged response to mitigate the pandemic’s damages.
The Nepal government and the Nepal Red Cross Society have had a long running synergy.
To navigate the pandemic’s challenges, the NRCS worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Population to conduct health screenings in various parts of Nepal. In fulfilling its auxiliary function, the NRCS mobilized its extensive network of volunteers, providing technical support where necessary.
Rujina Joshi, Senior Health Program Officer, highlights how response efforts near borders were crucial. “After the country experienced the first wave, it became clear that health screening at the borders was important,” Joshi says.
Ulla speaks of the tricky task of monitoring multiple points of entry and an overwhelming movement of people. Despite such hurdles, NRCS helped set up monitoring posts in two major points of entry in Jhapa and Kailali during the second wave. It also ensured that there was easy access to its ambulances and blood banks, its flagship services.
During the peak of the second wave, Nepal’s health infrastructure was inundated with Covid-19 patients and demands for vital supplies. Almost $3.5 million was raised to support Nepal Red Cross and its volunteer networks in strategic areas: prevention and dissemination, medical services including the supply of oxygen products, vaccination and socio-economic activities of the most vulnerable. The NRCS supported 154 isolation centers, distributed 291 oxygen concentrators, 600 cylinders and 17 ventilators to MoHP and NRCS’s local chapters. In addition, the NRCS also coordinated with Partner National Societies to collectively use resources more efficiently.
While these are all essential response efforts, Ulla is mindful that procuring and delivering vaccines to people across Nepal is of equal importance. “No one is safe until everyone is. This is why the Red Cross advocates impartial and equitable vaccination,” he says.
Recognizing vaccine inequity, the IFRC calls on governments to increase coverage and equitable use of vaccines. It signed an MoU with ‘Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’ and initiated dialogue early on with the United Nations to vaccinate frontline workers.
While working to procure vaccines, the NRCS was also laying the ground for vaccination awareness. Through radio and television, it was regularly broadcasting PSAs to ensure people had factual information about the vaccines. Ulla highlights examples of how NRCS volunteers have reached even remote areas on awareness activities. According to Joshi, NRCS awareness activities have thus far reached almost 4.8 million people across Nepal.
The pandemic disrupted normal life for all but its socio-economic ramifications have been crippling particularly for a few groups, such as daily wage workers. For them, staying in during a lockdown means forgoing an opportunity to earn and sustain their livelihood. The NRCS provided economic aid in the form of conditional and unconditional cash assistance and also food packages to more than 23,000 such people.
One area that Ulla wants to work on is creating and strengthening synergies at all levels. “With enormous challenges also come enormous opportunities,” he says. An essential goal of the IFRC is to enhance the capacities of its National Societies. Owing to its difficult topography and the increasingly devastating effects of climate change, Nepal is vulnerable to floods and landslides. Every year, several communities are displaced and many lives are lost. The pandemic adds to the burden. According to Ulla, there is great need to build resilient communities and that is only possible through good partnerships and coordination.
In order to fortify its preparations to handle future outbreaks, the NRCS is already taking steps based on its experience so far, prioritizing the procurement of more funding and essential supplies.
The NRCS is also preparing for a third wave of Covid-19 as restrictions are lifted and people return home during the festive season. It has been working to scale up border monitoring. After receiving more funding from international donors, the NRCS plans to increase COVID response activities in checkpoints in collaboration with the government and local authorities. It also plans on mobilizing more volunteers to make contact tracing more effective and to explore different capacities with local chapters to improve isolation-center management.