Newborns battle to survive in sheds

Bajura, February 22

Nandasara Sarki has been living in a cowshed with her two-week old son in Dhim, Bajura. The newborn of Badhu VDC, suffers from common cold and diarrhoea, possibly due to the congested interior of theshed. The mother worries as she has two more weeks at the shed .

In western Nepal, the custom dictates that a new mother and her baby have to stay in a cowshed for a month after the birth of the baby. This practice is widely observed in Humla, Kalikot, Jumla, Dolpa of the mid-west and Bajura, Bajhang, Achham of far-west Nepal. Even when a child is delivered at a birthing centre, the mother and the newborn are sent to a cowshed for the whole month.

For Nandasara, this is the fourth time at the cowshed. Two of her children died in the one-month period after birth. “I could not save them due to cold,” says Nandasara.

About two months ago, Rela Rokaya gave birth to a child, which died a month later. “I can’t do anything since this is an age-old tradition,” says Rela.

Assistant Nursing Midwife Premkala Malla of Rugin health post says that family members keep them in a shed away from home to pacify the gods. “The belief is that keeping the new mother and baby at home will make the gods angry.”

According to Rugam Thapa at District Health Office, 69 newborns died within 28 days of birth in the district last year. Similarly, the newborn death toll stood at 83 in the previous year.

“Data shows that majority of newborns died at the cowshed,” Thapa said. He said the death toll could be higher as data has not come in yet from all the health centres.