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Efforts to combat poverty in Nepal backslide during the latest deadly wave of Covid-19

As Nepal wrestles with a deadly wave of Covid-19, efforts to help vulnerable families there are facing new and unimaginable challenges.

Maggie Doyne, the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year, has spent nearly 15 years caring for children and families in rural Nepal.

Doyne is the co-founder and CEO of BlinkNow, a non-profit that runs a school, a women’s center, a safe house, and a children’s home in Surkhet, a district in the country’s Midwestern region. Many of the families living there depend on migrant work across the border in India.

“By the time that we realized that the outbreak had come into India, it was almost too late,” Doyne said.

BlinkNow had already been operating under strict Covid-19 restrictions for months when their team on the ground started seeing a spike in positive test results.

“Our kids are all OK so far. Everybody’s been in quarantine and recovered. I think the scariest thing is knowing that there’s just not the hospital beds and that oxygen there.” Doyne spoke to CNN from Canada, where she is waiting for Nepal to lift its lockdown and restart international flights.

Nepal was largely successful in fighting the first wave of Covid-19, with a string of measures that included closing the usually porous border with India. While it helped slow the spread of the virus, Doyne pointed out that the closure caused a string of new problems for people living and working across the region.

“Families can’t get back, and obviously, work shuts down. There’s only so long that a migrant can survive without that daily work,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, BlinkNow has provided these families and other vulnerable community members with an emergency food bank — a measure they stepped up when the second wave hit.

BlinkNow’s students face unique challenges during the lockdown. Doyne said many Nepalese families live in multigenerational homes, which makes social distancing difficult. Without widespread access to the internet and electronic devices, remote students depend on homework packets provided by their teachers.

Doyne says the timing of the second wave caught many in the region off guard, which helped contribute to the severity of the spread. She points out that it hit during wedding season and at a time when thousands attended festivals and political rallies on both sides of the border with India.

“This just hit so hard, and I think it took everyone by surprise with how serious it is and how hard it is to combat these virulent strains,” she said.

Complicating matters in Nepal, Doyne points out that the country’s medical infrastructure was already struggling before this latest wave of Covid-19.

“All of our medicines, all of our oxygen tanks, our ambulances, our food supply relies on India. So, you really can’t have a landlocked Himalayan country so reliant on another country that’s really struggling.”

Doyne sees vaccinations as Nepal’s best method of fighting Covid-19. She is optimistic about the local efforts to combat the virus. During Nepal’s first wave of Covid-19, she saw young activists leading community efforts and marshaling resources like blood plasma and oxygen. She also pointed to the Nepali diaspora pulling together to help each other.

“There’s so much good, and that’s the thing about tragedy is that it does bring out the heroes and the health care workers and the helpers. And I see so much of that,” she said. “Nepalis themselves are just really pulling through for each other, for their older relatives, getting the word out and making sure that resources are being shared.”

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