Gerkhu, August 28
As labour pains gripped Junu Shrestha around midnight one day in early July, the heavily pregnant villager set off on foot along a muddy path destroyed in Nepal’s earthquake, desperate for help.
She stumbled in the dark for two hours before reaching a handful of medical tents erected after the 7.6-Richter quake on April 25 flattened her local clinic.
“It was dark and scary. I didn’t know what would happen,” the 21-year-old said of finally reaching the tents with her mother-in-law in time to give birth. “I had to keep stopping because of the pain.”
Some 70 per cent of pre-natal clinics that had been providing crucial services to pregnant women were severely damaged in the Nepali districts hardest hit by the quake.
Now with monsoon rains slowing rebuilding and relief efforts, fears are mounting of a reverse in the country’s recent progress in reducing maternal and neonatal deaths.
More than 30,000 women have given birth in the worst-hit districts since the disaster. But many like Shrestha, living in remote hilly villages, have been forced to brave quake-damaged trails that face the risk of landslides from aftershocks and rains in order to reach medical help.
Many babies have been stillborn while premature deliveries tripled in the worst-hit districts, according to health experts, who say the shock and trauma triggered by the disaster led to a surge in medical complications experienced by pregnant women. “In normal circumstances we expect that about five per cent of pregnancies would turn out to be premature deliveries but after the earthquake we saw it was about 15 per cent,” said Asha Pun, maternal and newborn health specialist at UNICEF.
Shrestha considers herself lucky to be alive after she was hit by falling furniture when the quake struck. Her family pulled her from the rubble of their home in Gerkhu village in Nuwakot district, around 30 km north of Kathmandu. But they could not save her 14-year-old sister-in-law.
“The earthquake took my home, it left me with injuries and it killed my little sister-in-law,” Shrestha said, bursting into tears.
Only five out of 21 birthing centres were left standing in Shrestha’s district, while many villages were cut off. “Everything is a challenge, from getting to the villages to equipping the birthing tents to ensuring support to our overstretched staff who are working 24/7 despite having suffered so much themselves,” the district’s public health nurse, Sanu Maiya Rana, told AFP.
Aid agencies like UNICEF mobilised quickly to organise delivery of waterproof tents and essential supplies, including antibiotics, gloves and surgical instruments.
But health workers still fear the disaster will wipe out years of hard work invested in improving access to healthcare. Nepal has been credited with slashing its maternal mortality rate — by a staggering 55 per cent between 2000 and 2013, from 430 deaths per 100,000 live births to 190 deaths. And the birthing centres are a lifeline for rural families across the country.
“It has taken us so long to make maternal health a priority and now, with the birthing centres gone… and the rains here, I am very worried,” Rana told AFP. “If the rains damage the roads even further, then how will women come to see us and who will ensure that they get medical care?” she wondered.
Reason for hope
NUWAKOT:In Nuwakot, villagers are still living under tarpaulin sheets and simple metal structures on hillsides four months after losing their homes in the disaster.
With just days to go before her due date, housewife Sita Pyakurel is fearful of delivering in the recently erected medical tents instead of a clinic. “The tent feels too flimsy to offer protection against the wind and the rain… we already have water dripping from the roof of our shelter,” the 29-year-old mother of two said. “Now frogs have started to show up at night, and if frogs are here, then snakes can’t be far behind.”
As the rain beat down on the tarpaulin roof of her temporary home, precariously erected on a ridge, Shrestha is worried for her family once again. “I am afraid the rains will wash away our shelter… that illnesses will spread and make us sick,” she said.
But the successful birth of her son Jenish has given her reason to hope.
“Earlier I was scared… it was my first time giving birth so I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, holding him close. “After he was born, I felt happy – I felt as though God was still with us, as though he had saved us.”
A version of this article appears in print on August 29, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.
NC says it’s protesting, JSP-N blames NCP of betrayal KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal-led Nepal Communist Party has repeatedly asked the Nepali Congress to join hands in a joint struggle against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Read More...
VITORIA-GASTEIZ: Eden Hazard scored his first goal in almost three months while Karim Benzema bagged a brace as Real Madrid eased to a 4-1 win away to Alaves in La Liga on Saturday in the absence of coach Zinedine Zidane. Zidane tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the game so a Read More...
KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 Nepal Airlines Corporation has repatriated the bodies of 18 Nepali nationals from Malaysia. The national flag-carrier brought the bodies in its wide-body A330 aircraft. Eighteen bodies and the mortal remains of one Nepali were brought here today. NAC had brought ho Read More...
KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 The National Human Rights Commission has urged the Government of Nepal to implement the recommendations made by it earlier and those suggestions received from the international community in the course of Universal Periodic Review. In the wake of the 37th Session of the Un Read More...
RAJBIRAJ, JANUARY 23 Various programmes were organised to mark the death anniversary of late Gajendra Narayan Singh in various Tarai districts today. In Rajbiraj, Saptari, Gajendra Narayan Singh Research Centre, Saptari, organised different programmes on the 19th death anniversary of Singh Read More...
KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 Martyrs’ Week celebrations have started from today in commemoration of all the known and unknown martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the people and the country. The main celebration committee formed by Kathmandu Metropolitan City today formally started Read More...
KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 About 10 metric tonnes of waste was managed from the Bagmati River today. Today is the 402nd week of the Bagmati Clean-up Mega Campaign. As part of the campaign, about 100 volunteers gathered on the Bagmati River banks near Minbhawan area and collected garbage, Govind Read More...
KATHMANDU, JANUARY 23 Preparations are under way to dispatch COVID-19 vaccine to all seven provinces. One million doses of the vaccine were received from India under grant assistance on Thursday. According to Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population Jageshwar Gautam, these Read More...