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Alum helps manage Nepal’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Posted: 23 April 2021

Nepal, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

Australia Awards alum Hem Raj Pandey is helping lead Nepal’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign. As Chief of the Kapilvastu Health Office and Member Secretary of the district’s COVID-19 Vaccination Coordination Committee, his work includes vaccine supply chain management, advocacy and human resource management.

Hem completed a Master of Science (Epidemiology) in 2020 at the University of Melbourne through an Australia Awards Scholarship. Following his graduation, he returned to Nepal, completed 14 days of quarantine, and began his role with the Kapilvastu Health Office in February 2021.

The Government of Nepal initiated its COVID-19 vaccination campaign that same month. It gave priority to frontline workers and civil servants, followed by citizens above the age of 65. Since then, Hem and his team have faced challenges related to distribution of vaccine supplies, overcoming vaccine hesitancy and combatting rumours about the vaccine.

To surmount these challenges, Hem—along with his Health Office team and municipality teams—worked at the grassroots level to increase vaccine awareness. They met with local community groups and their political and religious leaders. In one such meeting, Muslim leaders agreed to deliver a message about the importance of vaccination from a mosque while reciting Namaz (prayers). The vaccine coverage rate rose the next day and since then, the district has achieved more than 80% vaccine coverage in priority groups.

While in Australia, Hem learnt the virus’s transmission dynamics and different epidemiological models. He has been able to use this cutting-edge knowledge to manage the vaccination rollout.

“Although the COVID-19 situation is new for everyone, I feel that I am more equipped with the knowledge and skills to perform this managerial role,” Hem says, referring to the benefits of his Australian education.

In addition, Hem gained practical experience of COVID-19 control programs while in Australia, contributing further to his ability to manage the pandemic situation in the district.

Despite the successful initiation of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in Nepal, hazards remain as cases surge in neighbouring India. Additionally, Hem notes the risk of ‘caution fatigue’ among the general population, which can lead to people no longer following appropriate physical distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene precautions. He adds that “although 5% of the Nepali population has now received the first dose of vaccine against the virus, it is very low to protect the large mass of susceptible people.”

Hem has a message to share for World Immunisation Week, a global public health campaign that is observed in the last week of April each year. “I urge everyone to take the COVID-19 vaccine if it is available to you,” he says.

“Vaccines are important scientific innovations to protect people from getting the disease. They are scientifically proven through a series of trials and approved by the World Health Organization and the government. Moreover, the vaccines are safe and effective.”

To conclude, Hem notes that “the vaccination of individuals can help to protect their family members, their society and their nation”.

This year, World Immunisation Week will be held between 24 and 30 April.