By Phil Johnstone, IFRC
“Health is wealth. If our health is poor we can’t contribute to our community and our families,” says Chandra Prasad Shatyal.
Chandra’s home village of Lagarche, in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district, had a problem.
The 2015 25 April earthquake that took 26 lives in Lagarche also badly damaged the health post in the village, which perches on a steep hillside at 1,350 metres, five hours’ drive from Kathmandu.
When the quake struck, health post staff were vaccinating children while upstairs a local charity was running a training event for 30 women.
“Everyone was scared and ran to their homes,” recalls Amrit Dhital, the facility’s manager at the time. “One woman had left her three young children in her home, and she returned to find they had all been killed.”
“My strongest memory of that first week after the quake was the shock. Families were separated. Our main water supply source was gone. There was no communication. People were crying and shouting. Our health post was cracked and not safe to use.”
The next week was spent administering first aid and sending the injured to hospitals in Kathmandu and elsewhere. A tent served as a temporary clinic after 10 days, but a bad storm blew it over.
“So we had no tent and an unsafe building. At that point the management committee and I started talking about how we could get a new health clinic,” says Amrit.
The clinic was critical to the health and wellbeing of Lagarche’s 3,500 residents. It was a 24-hour birthing facility, offered outpatient, immunization and family planning programmes and a myriad of other basic yet essential health services for an isolated community.
The earthquake also disrupted water supplies and sanitation systems – limiting the provision of services and dramatically increasing the risk of disease and other health-related problems in Nepal, where people’s health was already fragile, with high maternal and infant mortality rates, and widespread, chronic malnutrition.
In July the Nepal Red Cross supported by the Japanese Red Cross announced it would work with the community to replace the facility.
“When we heard the project was confirmed, we felt like someone who gets a glass of water when they are very thirsty,” recalls Chandra Prasad Shatyal, who is on the health post committee.
“We were so happy. This facility is very important to us.”
“Before the contractors arrived, we gathered the community and worked together to level the site,” recalls Chandra Prasad Shatyal. “It was hard work but we made it ready for the foundations. We also negotiated with the contractor to have some community members work as day laborers.”
When the health post manager Amrit Dhital moved to a new government position in Kathmandu at the end of 2015, he knew the Lagarche community would continue to push to make the health post a reality.
“They have always remained positive and engaged. The people are always worrying about the quality of the work. Every day they come and look and monitor the work.”
Amrit’s replacement as health post manager, Rupa KC, was previously a social worker in Nepal’s private health sector. Along with her three colleagues, she can’t wait for the expected late-April opening of Lagarche’s new clinic.
“It’s possible the first baby born in our new health post will be given a Japanese name,” she says with a smile. “The community thinks so kindly about the Japanese people because of what the Red Cross is doing. And for me, being new to the public health sector, I am looking forward to my work here. It’s special to be a woman doing this job for the community.
Lagarche is one of 28 earthquake-affected communities where the Nepal Red Cross is partnering to rehabilitate and equip health facilities and leverage its legacy in community-based health and first aid.
In addition the Red Cross will build a semi-permanent hospital in Dhunche (Rasuwa district), to provide essential health services until the government can build a permanent structure. Contributions to the health posts and hospital will include ensuring they have suitable equipment and training in community-based first aid, trauma care, anaesthesia, maternal and new born care, clinical skills, epidemic control and psychosocial support.