Green growth, investing in human capital essential for Nepal’s Covid-19 recovery: EU Ambassador

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Ambassador of the European Union to Nepal, Nona Deprez, is considered active in the field and social media almost equally these days. As a number of EU member states expand their support for Nepal’s response to Covid-19, she runs from Kathmandu International Airport to the Ministry of Health and Population to organize logistics.

In the middle of her busy schedule, she gave a brief interview to Online khabar giving an overview of EU aid to Nepal and how it ensures its effective use. During the interview, she stressed the importance of transparency on the part of the government to ensure that support reaches beneficiaries. Likewise, she also identified the keys to Nepal’s recovery from the pandemic.

Extracts:

Could you please provide the details of the EU’s assistance to Nepal in its fight against the coronavirus?

Since the start of the pandemic, the European Union has spearheaded global efforts to fight Covid-19. In 2020, the EU invested nearly € 4 billion in large-scale vaccine research and development, making a significant contribution to the next generation of mRNA vaccines. The EU then became a major producer and exporter of Covid-19 vaccines as it has so far exported 340 million doses to 90 countries, roughly as many as we have used in our region. The EU, together with its member states and financial institutions, what we call Team Europe, has also pledged to donate an additional 100 million doses to low and middle income countries before the end of the year, mainly via Covax. With 3.2 billion euros, Team Europe is also one of the main contributors to the Covax installation: a third of all Covax doses delivered to date have been funded by Team Europe. Vaccines produced in the EU currently represent almost 40% of all supplies shipped via Covax. The European Commission has also worked with industrial partners who manufacture vaccines in Europe, to make vaccine doses available very quickly to low- and middle-income countries. At the recent World Health Summit, President von der Leyen announced the commitment of three major manufacturers to make 1.3 billion doses of vaccines available for no profit to low-income and middle-income countries at lower prices by the end of 2021.

Of course, we know that this is not enough to prevent the vaccination gap from widening. Therefore, we are working to increase the production capacities of the EU and others, such as in Africa. All of these actions will benefit Nepal, directly and indirectly.

Specifically, in Nepal last year, when the crisis hit, the European Union mobilized an immediate Covid-19 response to partners and the Nepalese people of nearly 75 million euros (9.5 billion rupees ) in direct support to Nepal. This support has been closely coordinated with EU Member States, other instruments available to us from our headquarters for emergency response and with other development partners. This amount reduced the burden on the state budget so that the government could use additional resources for emergency response and economic recovery.

Another example is the humanitarian aid we have provided through United Nations agencies for the provision of essential equipment and supplies such as oxygen equipment, home care kits, diagnostic kits and protective equipment. Support too includes clinical follow-up and rapid referral to hospitals of isolated cases at home through telemedicine services. These services allow patients to communicate remotely with a healthcare professional, instead of physically going to a doctor or hospital. We are also working with the UN to address gender-based violence and have created mobile response teams.

Representatives of the European Union hand over medical supplies to the Nepalese Ministry of Health in Kathmandu on Friday, June 25, 2021. Photo: EU Delegation to Nepal

Lately we have received a large number of medical supplies from the EU and you seem busy facilitating the whole process. How do you feel about helping the Nepalese during a crisis?

As a long-time partner and friend, we are always ready, in solidarity, to support Nepal and its people in their fight against this terrible second wave. The response from EU member states has been overwhelming, with 12 countries contributing through the European Civil Protection Mechanism, and proves the close ties between Europeans and Nepal.

Is there a mechanism to ensure that these aids are used correctly and that everyone can benefit from them?

We track medical equipment and supplies provided by EU Member States through the government system. All medical equipment and supplies donated by EU Member States are received by the Ministry of Health and Population. Once the equipment and supplies are cleared by the Customs Department, they are stored in the Humanitarian Transit Zones (HAS) in Sinamangal or at the Teku Hospital warehouse and the inventory of these is registered in the electronic management information system (eLMIS) of the MoHP. Depending on the needs and the supplies, the MoHP sends them to different parts of the country; some are stocked in provincial stores and some are sent directly to hospitals and health units. All of these can be tracked in eLMIS.

During our visit to the HSA a few weeks ago, MoHP staff showed us the Finnish assistance inventory list, their physical presence, the number of medical supplies and the plan to send them to which districts. Since then, all of these supplies have been transported to the Old West. We asked the Ministry of Health for an overview of the inventory of equipment and supplies that have been registered in the government system, and information regarding the distribution of these to different locations (provincial warehouses, hospitals, etc.) for each of the lots of European aid.

This is important for us not only for official files but also to inform European citizens of the help they have given to Nepal. In addition, it is equally important for us to provide this information to Nepalese citizens to assure them that the donated medical equipment and supplies have reached the intended beneficiaries through your ministry.

We have offered assistance for the installation, use and maintenance of machines donated by EU Member States such as ventilators, BPAB machines or others. We also requested information regarding the ministry’s plan for the maintenance of these machines. At ground level, we plan to have our project partners monitor the use of equipment and supplies.

Today Nepal urgently needs vaccines. How is the EU going to help Nepal get more vaccines?

The EU strongly believes in multilateral solutions and we firmly believe that Covax is the best vehicle to organize a fair and organized distribution and allocation of vaccines for all countries. As mentioned earlier, the EU and its Member States are among the major contributors to this global mechanism, both in donation and delivery of vaccines, and we hope Nepal will benefit directly from it. Nepal is part of the Covax system, and benefits from donations from Covax; Nepal has also expressed interest in the possibility of procuring vaccines through Covax.

European Union officials hand over medical aid to Minister of Health Sher Bahadur Tamang on behalf of Ireland and Denmark, in Kathmandu on Friday, June 18, 2021. Photo: EU Delegation to Nepal

How does the EU cooperate with Covax for a fair distribution of vaccines?

The whole world is facing the current shortage of vaccines. The best response to meeting current shortages is to work together to increase production capacity and keep global supply chains open. The challenge of vaccinating the world is a massive undertaking and a marathon, not a sprint.

COVAX is the global facility co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO. This is the best way to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines in the 192 participating countries. The Covax facility treats all recipient countries and regions equally and facilitates cost sharing between rich and low-income countries.

The dose allocation follows WHO’s equitable allocation criteria, depending on the population of beneficiaries, and will initially target the most vulnerable and exposed populations. For their part, countries need to ensure the regulatory approvals needed to receive vaccines, strong immunization plans, and logistics in place.

What is the EU’s future plan for Nepal to help it deal with similar crises in the future?

The Italian Presidency of the G20 in partnership with the European Commission organized the World Health Summit on May 21, 2021 which resulted in the signing of “The Rome Declaration”.

As European Commission President von der Leyen said, “This is the first time that G20 leaders have met specifically on health. World leaders gave a strong message: Never again. We have learned the lessons of the current crisis. And we are determined to make Covid-19 the last pandemic. Thus, for the very first time, all G20 countries have agreed on common principles to defeat Covid-19 and to prevent and prepare for future pandemics. The United States and China, the EU and Russia, India, South Africa and Latin America (together), the Rome Declaration is a celebration of multilateralism.

The G20 is committed to “open, resilient, diverse, secure, efficient and reliable global supply chains”. This clearly means: no more export bans, no more bottlenecks.

Next, the G20 recognizes that the loss of biodiversity and the expansion of human activity in nature and wildlife bring us pandemics. This is a big step forward for the evidence-based One Health approach. The G20 is committed to putting in place early warning, monitoring and triggering information systems.

In other words, we learned our lessons from the early days of the pandemic and the slowness of information at the time. It won’t happen again because everyone is committed to setting up their system now. And, the systems will be interoperable. They will cover new viruses, but also variants. We will therefore be able to detect them much faster and act.

Finally, the European Union is committed to supporting Nepal in the recovery after Covid-19, through the green, resilient and inclusive development plan (GRID) that the government and development partners have defined. This means supporting Nepal’s green growth by increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies, jobs in sustainable agriculture and forestry, and investing in Nepal’s human capital through education and of nutrition. And to do this, we will continue to support systems of governance.


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