Vaccines for the most vulnerable

Dila Prasad Bhatta from remote Darchula District in far-western Nepal voices the particular challenges he has faced as a person with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his relief at finally being vaccinated

UNICEF Nepal
This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta at his home in Duhun, Darchula
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi
15 August 2021

Darchula, Nepal: Dila Prasad Bhatta might not be able to walk around on his own, but family and friends in his home village of Duhun in Darchula District in Nepal’s remote far-west describe him as being one of the “most mobile” persons in the community.

“He’s such an extrovert,” Mahendra Bhatta says of his 45-year-old uncle. “You can never pin down where he is at any given time.”

This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta being carried by his nephew Mahendra
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi
This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta at his home in Duhun, Darchula
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi

Dila was born with a physical disability that prevented full use of his limbs. But this certainly hasn’t stopped him from making friends of all ages and spending as much time outdoors as possible.

Indeed, Dila says people around him have always been incredibly supportive all his life, helping to carry him to where he needs to go and any other favours – he only needs to ask.

“My family members and friends from the village have supported me constantly – whether they are office workers, farmers or young people, even children, they are willing to help me when I need it.”

With the changed reality brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Dila says he felt that long-established support system take a hit. At a time when the government, healthworkers and experts were advising precautionary measures such as physical distancing, mask usage and handwashing, Dila says it was difficult for him to implement these – particularly distancing.

“That is difficult to do as someone who is entirely reliant on other people,” he says. “I am not able to sustain myself on my own. I need someone to help me use the toilet, someone to feed me, to give me water.”

This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta using his mobile phone
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi

That challenge was amplified during a recent bout of illness, when Dila developed a high fever and couldn’t get out of bed for over a week. “My friends talked to me from the outside, we didn’t come into close contact. But my family members didn’t have that choice, so my nephews and elder brother did have to be around me because I needed their help,” he says.

Dila says that for the entirety of the week, he was burdened with guilt that he might be putting his loved ones at risk. “I didn’t want for them to be infected with COVID-19 because of me.” Fortunately, the illness passed in time and none of the other members of the family fell sick.

This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta being carried by his nephew Mahendra
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi

Given these difficulties, when Dila learned that COVID-19 vaccines were coming in early August at the local health post, this time specifically targeted at people with disability – among other groups – he was eager to get it. These were the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, 1.5 million doses of which were donated by the US Government to Nepal through the COVAX Facility.

“I’m feeling very proud in my heart that a foreign country like America has provided vaccines for people with disability like me in Nepal….I’m grateful to the Nepal Government and the American Government for this,” Dila says.

This image shows Dila Prasad Bhatta at the vaccination center
UNICEF Nepal/2021/LPNgakhusi

However, as relieved as he is to have gotten the shot, Dila hopes the vaccine drive will accelerate and that everyone can access the vaccine, regardless of wealth, influence or affiliation.

“Vaccines should be distributed in an equitable way, they should be available to everyone if we are to drive out COVID-19 from the country,” he says. “If there are a hundred people who are vaccinated, but one who isn’t, the disease will continue to spread.”

UNICEF – together with key health partners – has long been supporting the Government of Nepal in assessing, strengthening and expanding the country’s cold chain capacity at the central, provincial, district and local levels, including through provision of crucial equipment like refrigerators, vaccine cold boxes and carriers, as well as through necessary technical and logistical support. The cold chain is key in ensuring the safe and effective transport and delivery of vaccines throughout the different legs of their journey, to get them into the arms of the people who need them the most.

UNICEF Nepal/2021/SShrestha