Bleak prospects for injured quake survivors

TRISHULI: The earthquakes that shook Nepal in April and May took more than 8,700 lives, but they also injured more than 22,000 people who are now struggling to recover from broken bones, lost limbs and other injuries, uncertain if they will ever be able to return to the lives they once knew.

For those who reached hospitals for immediate treatment, the government provided free surgery and initial medical care. But many are now discharged and on their own. Only a handful of big hospitals in Nepal have physical therapy facilities or experts who are able to teach rehabilitation exercises vital for the fullest possible recovery.

“They don’t do proper follow-up, which means basically the injury can bring like really long term impairments. And if they don’t get proper treatment and proper physical treatment then they will not be able to get back to their daily activities,” said Aurelie Viard, of Handicap International, a non-profit organisation that has provided physical therapy, equipment and treatment.

Viard acknowledged that the top priority for many is getting food and shelter. But for those who can benefit from physical therapy, “our work is to convince them that if they don’t do proper treatment now, they won’t be able to do it later,” he said.

Survival, not rehabilitation, is uppermost in the mind of Sedar Tamang, who lost his left leg after it was crushed by a boulder. The 22-year-old father of three, who lives in a tent camp after his village was demolished by the April 25 quake, used to cut firewood and work in the corn fields. Now he doesn’t know how he’ll support his family.

Nepal’s government has said it would help build houses destroyed in the earthquake but has not said anything about long-term treatment for the injured. At the Trishuli District Hospital, in a hard-hit area about 80 km northwest of Kathmandu where staff are working out of tents because of damage to the hospital buildings, many people with orthopedic injuries are still coming in for treatment.

“Most of them would require physical therapy to recover fast and properly but we don’t have the expertise or facilities to provide such care for these patients,” said Dr Rajendra Lama. “We can hardly cope and provide primary treatment for the people.” Most patients are poor and have no concept of physical therapy or other long-term treatment, he said.