Yagya Kumari Khadka, 57, won’t easily forget the day her son slipped while carrying a bundle of rice stalks and fell on a stone, leaving a huge gash on his head. “It kept bleeding and bleeding,” she says.
Fortunately, help was at hand at her local health post in Lagarche village, where health workers hurriedly patched the young man up with 11 stitches.
For Yagya, this was the most dramatic incident among a regular pattern of visits to the facility - averaging two or three a month among the nine members of her family.
“We get very good service here and we are very grateful,” she says as she chats with visitors on the road outside the clinic, which perches on the side of a wooded valley above the Melamchi river.
For 20-year-old mother Puja Thapa, the clinic has also been an essential help. Her seven-month-old daughter, Shamrachana, was the first child to be born in the new facility.
“Before, many women in the village used to have their babies at home. Now an average of two or three babies are delivered at the health post each month”, says Rupa Khatri Chhetri, the health worker in charge, whose team also includes a midwife and a nurse.
The new building, constructed with Red Cross support, replaces the former health post sited in a local government building just next door. It is still standing but was severely cracked in the 2015 earthquake.
“Most of the health posts in this area were destroyed or damaged by the quake,” says former village leader Ekendra Khanal. While the previous health worker in charge lobbied the government to approve the project, he secured the land. Without their intervention, it might have taken years for a new facility to be built.
With the health worker and nurse living on site, the health post provides 24-hour service to treat basic ailments and injuries. Asked about his hopes for further upgrading it, Khanal says, “We have many cases of broken bones or fractures caused by accidents in the fields, so it would be good if these could be treated here.”
For now, the resident staff refer cases which they are not equipped to handle to the primary health centre in the valley below, about an hour’s drive down the hill, where there are fully-qualified doctors on hand.
Villagers’ physical ailments are the main issues that Rupa confronts and she is quick to point out that she does not have formal psychosocial training.
“I counsel people as best I can when I feel it’s needed,” she says, citing the example of a newly-married woman, who came to her after suffering a fainting spell. “She was experiencing tensions with her husband so I had a talk with her about that,” Rupa says.
According to Mausam Bohara, Health Coordinator for the Earthquake Response Operation at the Nepal Red Cross, the disaster in 2015 dealt a serious blow to a health system that was already suffering from under-development.
“We are doing our best to address the needs at the local level by working closely with the communities to rebuild the health posts on which people in the villages are so reliant,” he says.
The Nepal Red Cross Society is increasing the number of local health officers. With the help of partner national societies from countries such as Japan, the Republic of Korea and the UK, as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Red Cross is supporting the construction or rehabilitation of more than 40 health posts, while the Canadian Red Cross is supporting the construction of a rural hospital.