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Nepal probes Bahraini prince's 'gift' of 2,000 vaccines to Himalayan village

Nepal's medicines regulator said vaccine doses were brought into the country without a licence or prior knowledge of the health ministry
Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa (second right) poses for pictures upon arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa (second right) poses for pictures upon arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu (AFP)

An investigation has been sparked in Nepal after a Bahraini prince brought 2,000 Covid-19 vaccines into the country as a donation for a Himalayan village, ahead of a planned climb of Mount Everest later this month.

Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa arrived in Kathmandu on Monday night with a 16-man team, including three British nationals, to climb the world's highest mountain.

In a photo published on the "Bahrain Everest" Instagram page on Monday, the climbers were seen in front of a Bahraini jet with two large blue boxes.  

"The blue containers at the front contain 2000 doses of vaccines that the Kingdom of Bahrain has donated to the village of Samagaun, Nepal on orders of HH [Sheikh] Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa," the picture's caption reads.

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Nepal's medicines regulator said it launched a probe into how the vaccines were imported into the country without a licence or prior knowledge of the health ministry.

"We have deployed a team of drug inspectors to investigate how the vaccines were brought into the country without any prior approval," Bharat Bhattarai, director-general of Nepal's Department of Drug Administration (DDA), told the Kathmandu Post.

"We did not know that vaccines were being imported from Bahrain."

A DDA spokesman told AFP the donation "did not meet the required procedure" of Nepal's inoculation campaign, which is currently prioritising individuals over 65 years of age.

Nepal has had more than 270,000 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.

“We are investigating and will take a decision on whether it can be used," the spokesperson added, referring to the vaccine doses.

A PR opportunity

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said the Gulf monarchy was using Covid-19 vaccines as "a PR opportunity" and had "waded blindly into an unnecessary diplomatic dispute".

"This misguided act of philanthropy is indicative of a regime that assumes its wealth gives it the right to run roughshod over the laws of a sovereign state, potentially spoiling vital vaccines in the process," he told Middle East Eye.

Nepal began its vaccination programme in late January, and the country also received one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine free of charge from its neighbour India, as well as 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China.

The country's health minister, Hridayesh Tripathi, said in an interview with the Associated Press that Kathmandu was worried about future vaccine supplies, noting the country may find it difficult to obtain doses through "simple commercial deals" due to worldwide demand.

In addition to creating a health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic dealt a devastating economic blow to thousands of people in Nepal, from guides to hoteliers, who depend on the climbing and trekking industry for their livelihoods.

The apparent donation also comes months after local leaders renamed a 5,200-metre (17,000-foot) mountain the Bahrain Royal Peak during a previous climb of the 8,163-metre (26,781-foot) Mount Manaslu and the 6,119-metre (20,075-foot) Lobuche last October.

The naming of peaks after foreign dignataries, reportedly done out of hopes of financial assistance, has been controversial, according to local media.

Residents of another village in the district previously named a mountain "Harry Hill", after the UK's Prince Harry, who helped to rebuild a school in the area after a devastating earthquake in 2015.