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Nepal earthquake: Health is the big concern here

Nepal earthquake: Health is the big concern here

There’s nothing more confusing than getting woken up by an aftershock shaking the building in the middle of the night. These aftershocks are a daily occurrence, but when they happen in the dead of night, when you’re fast asleep, there’s inevitably a brief moment of “WHAT WAS THAT?” So I can only imagine what it must be like for the people of Nepal who endured the 7.8-magnitude quake that rocked the country a little more than a week ago.

These regular reminders must be terrifying, especially out in the hills like we are at the moment, about 5 hours east of Kathmandu in a district called Dolakha.

There are makeshift tents made up of tarps all over the place in Dolakha. The drive here takes you through such jaw-dropping beautiful scenery, so visually stunning that for a moment, you almost forget what has happened in Nepal – only to be reminded a moment later when you see a pile of rubble that used to be a house.

 

Child after the Nepal earthquake

Making the journey to Dolakha

The road to Dolakha was long, steep and winding, with cracked roads and landslides along the way. When we got into the main town, I was surprised to see so many hotels. It turns out Dolakha is a transit for trekkers. I haven’t seen any trekkers yet, though I’m sure there are a few about. Once you get through the main urban centre, you see houses scattered across the greenery, some in better shape than others.

A lot of these structures were not built to withstand a tremor, so they fell down. But it wasn’t just houses that toppled or were damaged. Health centres and hospitals also bore the brunt. We met with the Department of Health Services yesterday and they told us that 28 health facilities in the district had been completely destroyed, with 16 partially damaged. There’s a real need for tents so that health care officials can set up temporary structures in order to keep delivering services to people affected by the Earthquake.

Seeing the health conditions

I visited a hospital yesterday and met several doctors who were working around the clock and doing an incredible job with very little support. They took me through a tour of the building to show me their existing working conditions: the building is full of cracks and patients are understandably terrified to stay there, particularly when you factor in the aftershocks. But they have no choice. Some have broken limbs, others with infected wounds and of course there are many pregnant women and newborns. As one mother asked me yesterday, cradling her newborn baby, “Where am I supposed to go once I leave here?” Her home was decimated. It’s a nightmare situation.

Yet even though the hospital building is still standing, the equipment the doctors are using is so old, outdated and damaged that they can barely meet the needs of the 50-60 people they are seeing daily.

A doctor there told me that after the first wave of patients with acute trauma and the second wave of patients suffering from infected and neglected wounds and ailments, they’re now getting the third wave of patients suffering from diarrhea and other communicable diseases. One young guy I met was so dehydrated; he was put on a drip. He looked like he was really struggling, but at least he was getting treatment. For many, the journey to a health centre is simply too difficult to make, especially with damaged roads and landslides. 

I’ll be here for a few more days, going round with colleagues as they meet local officials and villagers to better assess the situation while also distributing essential supplies like tarpaulins and food. We’re setting up an office here for the next six months, possibly longer, to focus on immediate needs. At the moment, Plan is working with Irish Aid, the Nepali military and US Marines to deliver shelter to communities in need while we’re also gearing up to start interventions on health with a focus on the most vulnerable: pregnant mothers, newborns and children under five.

It’s going to be a long six months, but already I’m seeing people coming together, rebuilding, and helping one another. It’s that kind of community spirit that gets people through this difficult time.

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