Covid-19 Nepal: Local leaders misuse senior citizens’ share of vaccines in different districts

The office of the deputy mayor of Hetaunda full with her relatives and CPN-UML cadres to receive Covid-19 vaccines.

Of the Covid-19 vaccines the government sent to Hetaunda for the senior citizens, deputy mayor Mina Lama ‘ordered’ 50 doses of Covid-19 vaccine for the employees and people’s representatives of the municipality. On Friday, when the health workers of the District Public Health Office arrived at the office of the deputy mayor with the vaccines, the office was full with her relatives and CPN-UML cadres, informs a health worker.

Now, complaints have reached the District Administration Office claiming that the deputy mayor misused the vaccines.

Hetaunda is just an example. This instance of misuse has been found happening all over the country including the Kathmandu metropolitan city as well.

The Ministry of Health and Population has started the vaccination programme for the 60-64 age group after China provided one million doses of Vero Cell vaccines. However, the vaccines that have reached the district and local levels through the provincial governments have been used by local representatives, their relatives, cadres of political parties and civil servants by violating the government criteria.

Some local level representatives have made excuses that those vaccines which have been saved after vaccinating senior citizens have been used while others have misused the vaccines secretly. This has deprived senior citizens, who are at greater risk, of getting vaccinated against Covid-19, according to government health officials.

Rampant misuse

Makawanpur Chief District Officer Bharat Mani Pandey says that an investigation will be carried out to inquire about the misuse of the vaccination after receiving complaints. “They have said that only local representatives have been vaccinated. I have asked for further details. If any misuse is found, we will recommend taking actions,” he reports.

Earlier also, a complaint was filed at the District Administration Office alleging that the Covishield vaccines, which were brought for the health workers and ambulance drivers of the Madan Bhandari Academy of Health Sciences, Hetaunda Hospital, were used for CPN-UML and Nepali Congress leaders at the local level.  

Similarly,  in Udayapur as well, it has been found that the mayor of Belaka municipality, Durga Kumar Thapa, has allotted vaccines to the cadres of political parties for vaccination against Covid-19. He sent a letter to the ward offices on June 9 fixing the quota of 10 for a national party and three for other local party members. 

Left: Criteria of the Department of Health Services about the Covid-19 vaccination. Right: A letter from the mayor of Belaka demanding vaccines for local politicians and leaders

Accordingly, 241 people have been vaccinated altogether at the Belaka Municipal Hospital, Rampur. Not only political party cadres but journalists and civil servants have also been vaccinated there.

Likewise, there are also complaints of misuse of Covid-19 vaccines in Banke. Locals have claimed that some health workers at the Primary Health Centre at Duduwa rural municipality-4 have vaccinated their own people, and some of them have even taken the vaccines at home.

Chief District Officer Shivaram Gelal informs, “We have asked the District Public Health Office for a vaccination record booklet after receiving complaints of irregularities in vaccination. We are making efforts to find out the truth about this. We will take action if anyone is found misusing the vaccines.”

Such misuse of the vaccines has been found in different municipalities of Ramechhap district including Ramechhap, Manthali and Sunapati. 

The scene at the Gandaki Provincial Assembly Secretariat in Pokhara on June 9 was also much similar. It is seen that members of the assembly used the vaccines for their wives, family members and party leaders.

The Provincial Assembly Secretariat had registered the names of 56 people for vaccination. However, the health workers walked away saying that they would go for bringing vaccines as the crowd did not subside even after 87 people were vaccinated.

In the federal capital of Kathmandu as well, people have complained that citizens of different age groups have been vaccinated on the basis of political access. In some wards of the Kathmandu metropolitan city, there are allegations that people of different age groups have been vaccinated in the connivance of people’s representatives and health workers.

Hari Bahadur Kunwar, the chief of the KMC Urban Health and Food Regulation Department, admits that they have received such complaints and an enquiry has been started.

What were the criteria?

According to the Nepal National Immunisation Advisory Committee, it was decided to vaccinate senior citizens of the age group of 60-64 as people of this age group were not vaccinated and are at high risk of contracting coronavirus infection. Based on that, the Ministry of Health decided to vaccinate people of the age group in three districts of Kathmandu valley by preparing criteria. 

The age group for vaccination outside the Kathmandu valley had been fixed at 62-64 years. Plus, the vaccines would also be distributed among  people who have been vaccinated with the first dose of Vero Cell vaccine, but have gone out of Kathmandu during the distribution of the second doses including health workers, medical college students and interns.

People getting vaccinated

Besides, in the local units bordering Tibet of China, all those over the age of 18 would be vaccinated, and in the Himalayan districts, those over the age of 55.

According to government officials, the decision was made in accordance with the strategy of giving the first dose only after ensuring the second dose. According to government statistics, the number of senior citizens in the age group of 60-64 years, across the country, is 854,000. However, those close to the power are reaping the unfair benefits of this targeted group having difficulty in reaching the vaccination centres.

Government response

There has not been much monitoring even when the local units been vaccinating against the government standards. Some local administrations have just started to investigate complaints, there is a risk of them being just a formality.

The federal government also warned that it will investigate and take action if anyone files a complaint with evidence. Dr Tara Nath Pokhrel, the director of the Family Welfare Division under the Department of Health Services, also says that legal action would be taken if any misuse of the vaccines by violating the standards is found.

“We have received reports from various media outlets that vaccines have been misused,” mentions Pokhrel, ” However, no written complaint has been received from anywhere. If anyone files a complaint, necessary investigation will be carried out and if found guilty, action will be taken.”

Dr Jhalak Gautam, the chief of the Child Health and Immunisation Section of the Department of Health Services, has also urged the concerned to conduct vaccination programmes as per the prescribed criteria. He adds that the coordination and monitoring committee has been instructed to bring the irregularities in the vaccination due to the pressure or influence of someone under investigation. “If the criteria are violated because of nepotism, favouritism, pressure and influence, it will be difficult to run regular vaccination services and it will deprive the targeted group of vaccination.”

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