Volunteers pack food for COVID-19 patients and health workers in Kathmandu, Nepal. AP
From his pharmacy outside Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Bikram Bhadel saw what happened when coronavirus lockdowns closed the facility’s cafeteria and nearby cafes.
"Every day I watched the patients, their families, doctors and other health workers struggling to get a good meal,” Bhadel said. "They were already having a tough time and the food situation was making it worse. This is where I decided that I need to step in and help out.”
He took 1 million rupees ($8,333) out of his family’s savings. And with the help of his friend Indra Kumar Newar — a taxi driver who had no work in recent months due to the lockdowns — he rented a vacant restaurant across the street from the hospital, bought groceries and hired a few helpers.
Now, at one of Napal’s largest hospitals, more than 200 COVID-19 patients, doctors, nurses and workers get hot, tasty and nutritious food three times a day.
"I have heard there is no medicine for the COVID-19 patients and the only thing to do is to take care of them and give them healthy food to help recover and regain their immunity. This is what we are trying to do to help,” Bhadel said.
The meals are vegetarian, prepared after consulting with nutritionists. They offer a combination of rice, lentil, beans, vegetables, fruit and salad for brunch and dinner, and snacks in afternoon.
They begin their day early in the morning. Preparing hundreds of meals. Food is packed in disposable packets and carried by Bhadel and Newar to the hospital reception area, where the staff eagerly awaits.
"The doctors and health workers have been working risking their own lives and away from their families. It was time to do something for them when they need them,” Newar said.
Staffers work and stay at the hospital for a week on duty and then another week in quarantine before they are allowed to return home for a week off work. While they are at the hospital, their only access to hot meals has been what the team delivers.
Nepal — which has 49,219 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 312 deaths — first imposed a lockdown in March, which lasted for four months. A second lockdown was set last month in nearly half the country when the numbers kept rising.
Bhadel and Newar estimate they spend about 50,000 rupees ($416) a day for groceries. They have hired 11 cooks and helpers, all of them paid minimum wage and are regularly tested for the virus.
Families, friends and neighbours have donated food, money and supplies. Bhadel and Newar have paid the rent for three months.
"We are hopeful the situation will get better in three months,” Bhadel said, "but if that does not happen, we will continue our work.”
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