Nepal facing ‘medical crisis’ as supplies run short
Bindu Ghimire’s chemotherapy appointment is approaching, but supplies of the drugs the 61-year-old desperately needs are in short supply as a political crisis in her native Nepal deepens. Protests at the border with India have already led to crippling fuel shortages in the landlocked Himalayan nation, and now medical supplies are also running short.
“So far, the medicine had been available, but the pharmacy is not sure if they can provide it next time,” the 61-year-old’s son Shashi Shekhar Ghimire said. “I don’t know what I will do if we don’t get it,” said Ghimire, whose mother has stage two colon cancer and needs a chemotherapy session every 21 days.
“It is getting very difficult.” Nepal is heavily dependent on its giant neighbor for fuel and other supplies, but little cargo has crossed the border since protests against a new constitution broke out in late September. Demonstrators from the Madhesi ethnic minority have been blockading the main Birgunj crossing ever since, protesting a new constitution they say leaves them politically marginalised.
Movement across other border checkpoints has also slowed to a crawl, prompting fuel rationing and forcing the government to start selling firewood as residents run out of cooking gas.
Who is to blame for all this is a matter of dispute. Nepal’s government accuses India, which has criticized the new constitution, of retaliating with an “unofficial blockade”-a charge New Delhi denies. “The issues facing Nepal are political in nature. They are internal to Nepal and the Nepalese leadership has to resolve them through dialogue with agitating parties,” said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup at a briefing on Thursday.
Whatever the explanation, the Nepal Chemists and Druggists Association says around 350 cargo trucks carrying medicines are stranded at the key crossing point. “We are suffering from a shortage of imported life-saving injections and vaccines,” said Mrigendra Shrestha, president of the association. “Medicines are crucial. We are now trying to airlift emergency supplies.” Meanwhile the head of Bir hospital-Nepal’s oldest-said both fuel and vital drugs were running short. “Operations have become difficult without fuel. If this blockade continues, we will have a medical crisis on our hands,” Swayam Prakash Pandit told AFP.
Landlocked Nepal imports 60 percent of its medicines, and most of them come from India. Even those that are locally produced have been affected by the political crisis, which comes just months after a devastating earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. Most of the factories are located along the southern border with India, where protests against the new constitution have been fiercest, and many have been forced to close. Those that do remain open are struggling with a shortage of raw materials and packaging. —AFP