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© UNICEF Nepal/2021/RUpadhayay

Gearing up to tackle potential COVID-19 surges

A second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nepal in April 2021. It pushed the country’s health care system to the brink of collapse, leaving it in severe need of medical supplies, especially oxygen treatment equipment.

To strengthen health facilities as well as to prepare for possible future surges, EU humanitarian aid provided funding to support UNICEF in delivering 600 oxygen concentrators to the government of Nepal. 

Nurse Roshani Bhujel works at the COVID-19 hospital in Janakpur in Dhanusha district in southern Nepal.

The health facility was launched in June 2021 with 100 beds. Although the wards don’t see too many COVID-19 patients lately, health workers know how quickly this can change. It was something they learnt the hard way during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier last year.

Everything had escalated so quickly in a short time back then,”

says Roshani recalling the horrific stories on TV and social media of people struggling to get oxygen in different parts of the country.

The shortage of oxygen was such a nightmare, both for the public and for health workers. A lot of lives were lost because of this.”

Nurse entering a hospital ward
Nurse Roshani Bhujel doing her rounds of one of the wards at the COVID-19 special hospital in Dhanusha District in south Nepal.
© UNICEF Nepal/2021/RUpadhayay

Thanks to EU humanitarian funding, UNICEF delivered 600 oxygen concentrators to the Government of Nepal in September 2021. The aim was to ensure that Nepal’s health system is better prepared to cope with possible future COVID-19 surges in terms of oxygen supply.

Since then, these lifesaving machines have been distributed across the different provinces to ensure easier access for health facilities as and when required.

While a portion has been distributed to district-level health offices, a large number of the concentrators are presently being stored in so-called “oxygen concentrator banks” in each province of the country.

A view of the oxygen concentrator ban
A view of the oxygen concentrator bank established under the Province Health Logistics Management Centre in Dhanusha District, in southern Nepal.
© UNICEF Nepal/2021/RUpadhayay.

One of these concentrator banks has been set up on the premises of the COVID-19 hospital in Janakpur itself, with pharmacy officer Bharat Sah as the focal point.

Bharat explains that the second COVID-19 wave created the need to be readily prepared should COVID-19 be on the rise again – and the bank is a testament to this.

These are challenging times, no doubt, but if a third wave of COVID-19 arrives in the country, this bank will play a crucial role in the response,” he says.

Nurse with an oxygen concentrator
Nurse Roshani Bhujel checks on an oxygen concentrator used to treat a patient with respiratory problems.
© UNICEF Nepal/2021/RUpadhayay

UNICEF health officer Lata Bajracharya says that the creation of the banks, among the different preparedness activities, is very encouraging. “COVID-19 has certainly highlighted the importance of ramping up oxygen supply and storage, but this is not just limited to the pandemic,” she says.

Although it was prompted by COVID-19, the work that is being done now will strengthen Nepal’s capacity to treat all critically-ill patients in the long run,” says the health officer.

Story by Preena Shrestha, UNICEF Nepal.
Main picture: Nurse Roshani Bhujel checks on a patient with respiratory problems at the COVID-19 special hospital in Dhanusha District in Nepal’s south. © UNICEF Nepal/2021/RUpadhayay.
Publication date: 10/01/2022