Covid-19 Vaccines: Nepal

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:09 pm on 6th July 2021.

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Photo of Nigel Adams Nigel Adams Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 7:09 pm, 6th July 2021

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are of course acutely aware of the challenge, whether that is getting first or, in the 1.4 million cases scenario, second doses. We have supported the Government of Nepal in liaising with and approaching the secretariat about the issue. As he knows, because it was announced recently, the majority of our over 100 million shared doses will go through the COVAX facility. That will help lower and middle-income countries enormously; that roll-out has now begun. Of course we are working constantly with Governments who are in need of those vaccines.

If I may get back to Nepal, we have targeted our support at the immediate health response and at the economic consequences of lockdowns, which we are acutely aware of in our own country. We have funded water sanitation and hygiene facilities for 400,000 people, safe spaces for women in isolation centres, cash and voucher assistance for the most vulnerable, and nutritional support for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In response to the second wave of covid in Nepal, we have provided additional medical support through our embassy in Kathmandu. We have funded experts to support the federal Government response. We have helped to establish temporary treatment centres in hotspots and, as I said to Seema Malhotra, we constructed an oxygen plant in Kathmandu, with another one coming in Pokhara next month. We have delivered medical equipment and PPE to local governments in the worst affected areas. That has included providing oxygen concentrators and ventilators for hospitals in Banke and Mugu. Throughout the pandemic, the Gurkha Welfare Trust—I referred to that in response to the hon. Member for Strangford—has been UK funded, and we have also ensured access to life-saving support and supplies to veterans and their communities.

In May, my colleague, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is Minister for South Asia and responsible for the Nepalese portfolio, spoke to Mr Gyawali, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss what further support the UK could provide. In response to that conversation, a military flight from Brize Norton arrived in Kathmandu a week later. It carried 260 ventilators and many thousands of pieces of PPE. Make no mistake, Mr Deputy Speaker, those pieces of equipment and that assistance are saving lives in Nepal as I speak. I recognise, however, that medical supplies are only part of the solution. Vaccines are also crucial—that point has been raised in the other place on several occasions by Lord Lancaster, who takes a keen interest in Nepal.

We are playing a leading role in ensuring equitable access to vaccines for countries such as Nepal. The COVAX initiative sits at the centre of that effort, and the United Kingdom was integral to building COVAX from scratch. Our early commitment of more than £548 million, which in turn leveraged $1 billion of funding from other donors, allowed COVAX to arrange supply deals with vaccine manufacturers. Despite supply challenges, COVAX has started to make significant progress in delivering vaccines around the world, with almost 348,000 doses already delivered to Nepal, and another tranche on the way in the next few weeks.

Ninety-six per cent. of vaccines distributed by COVAX to date have been the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, including in Nepal. Clearly, the United Kingdom was crucial to the development of that vaccine. We provided £90 million to support the initial research and development, and the subsequent manufacturing required to produce the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. What is more, we made clear that, as part of that funding, the vaccine should be affordable around the world. In total, more than 0.5 billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been delivered at a non-profit price globally, with two thirds going to lower and middle-income countries.

With United Kingdom support, a global licensing deal was also struck to transfer AstraZeneca’s technology to other manufacturers and establish 20 supply chains across the world, taking it to even more people. We have also been at the forefront of efforts around the world to boost confidence in covid-19 vaccines. Unfortunately, misinformation about vaccines—which can spread quickly, as we all know, on social media, with no respect for borders—has the potential to undermine trust and confidence in vaccines, which, ultimately and sadly, can cost lives. At the G7 global vaccine summit earlier this month, the UK Government and Google Cloud announced that they would work with some of the world’s leading tech companies on new digital solutions to tackle misinformation around vaccines.

Furthermore, the United Kingdom has supported the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to provide special finance to Nepal to tackle the consequences of covid-19, including to purchase those vaccines. The World Bank has already released $75 million and the Asian Development Bank will shortly agree an additional $165 million financing deal with the Government of Nepal. The United Kingdom supported these contributions as a shareholder in both those banks. With that finance and COVAX allocations, the Government in Nepal will be able to vaccinate seven out of every 10 Nepalis when, clearly, supplies allow.

We have also used our presidency of the G7 to spear- head a commitment from G7 members to share 1 billion vaccine doses by June 2022. At least 100 million of those vaccines will come from the United Kingdom. As the House knows, the majority of our shared doses will go to COVAX. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall will understand that we are not yet able to announce the detailed allocations of those, but we will endeavour to share with him and the House that information regarding the distribution as soon as possible.

Let me emphasise that the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Nepal’s development and recovery from covid-19, and I hope that some of the measures that I have outlined in answer to hon. Members’ interventions put some clarity on what we have actually delivered for the people of Nepal. As I said, we have reprioritised over £40 million of foreign aid to help Nepal respond to this awful pandemic. We sent scores of life-saving equipment to help Nepal respond to the country’s second wave and we have played a leading role in establishing COVAX and ensuring access to vaccines for Nepal—and not just Nepal, but all developing countries.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.