Digital divide could widen Nepal’s vaccine divide

Mandatory online registration may help address some issues, but it could deprive many of the jabs, experts say.

Bikash Adhikari works as a carpenter in Kathmandu. His job entails visiting houses for small repairs and fixing furniture. He is yet to get vaccinated.

Adhikari, 31, from Bidur, Nuwakot, does not have a laptop. He owns a low-end android smartphone just to make calls.

“I have heard that I have to fill a form online. They say it should be done from a computer or a mobile phone,” said Adhikari, a school dropout. “I don’t know how to do it.”

People like Adhikari who cannot register their names online for vaccines or those who do not have access to the internet could be deprived of vaccines against Covid-19, as the government has decided to make online registration mandatory to get vaccinated.

The Health Ministry has asked everyone aged 18 and above to register online by logging on to its website. The website was launched on May 13. Initially, the ministry had not made an online form mandatory for getting vaccinated, as the country was still struggling to secure jabs.

But with vaccine doses trickling in, the government has decided to make online forms mandatory to help run the vaccination campaign smoothly.

Public health experts say the decision to ask people to register themselves online for vaccines is not wrong in itself, but there is a risk of creating a digital divide and it may rather hamper Nepal’s aim to inoculate as many people at the earliest.