WHO sets up field office in Nepal's Gorkha dist for unreachable survivors

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set up a new field office in the Gorkha district of Nepal to ramp up operations and extend health care assistance to survivors of the earthquake who remained unreachable since the disaster struck the Himalayan nation on 25 April.

The field office will be established in strategic coordination with the Nepalese government and other humanitarian partners, who are also establishing operational bases in the city. The new field office will help WHO and the national authorities to coordinate land and air support to rush medicines, health care professionals and other life-saving resources to some of the most remote regions impacted by the earthquake, a WHO release said.

Gorkha, which is a 3-4 hour drive northwest of the capital Katmandu, is one of the districts most affected by the earthquake, and also a good base from which to access other severely impacted areas.

This will form part of a major push by Nepalese authorities and the humanitarian sector to reach remote, mountainous communities in urgent need of support. Many more such are expected to come up as the WHO and other aid agencies ramp up operations, the release said.

''Health care services are being delivered in built-up areas in Gorkha and those that still can be reached by road,'' says Hyo-Jeong Kim, WHO emergency operations manager, during a 2 May field visit to the hilltop village of Katteldanda in Gorkha. The village was devastated by the earthquake.

''But we have also identified seven communities beyond the Himalayas in an area not easily accessible, and where there are about 6,000 people who have not been reached with services since the earthquake struck. Below those villages, there are about 7,000 additional people who have not been reached, she added.''

It is critical, Kim says, that health workers and medical supplies reach these areas immediately. ''It is essential that people are treated for injuries or infections that they may have, and then protected against diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections and other infections to name a few. Pregnant women must also be given rapid access to care for safe deliveries and to ensure that any complication of pregnancy or birth is rapidly addressed.''

Nischal Kattel, an earthquake survivor in Katteldanda, where almost all of the 90 houses were leveled in the earthquake, says his community's most important health needs relate to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, says WHO.

''We worry about the toilets. Along with the houses, most of the toilets were destroyed by the earthquake. We want to build some toilets in this area so we do not become sick,'' Kattel explained while walking through his ravaged village, stepping over piles of broken bricks, snapped planks and sharp nails. ''We have our own water source, but there is no safe drinking water, so we have to purify it.''

Kattel built a makeshift tent for 20 members of his family who have been cramming into it each night since the quake struck. ''We are living in close quarters, and we have to be careful with our hygiene so not to get sick. People are still scared of aftershocks and want to remain outside in tents,'' WHO quoted him as saying. ''They are worried about their health, and they are having nightmares about the quake.''

Meanwhile, the main hospital in the district of Gorkha has seen an upsurge in patients needing care for injuries, including broken bones and lacerations, along with the delivery of more regular health services, such as care for children and pregnant women.

The hospital's director, Dr Sudha Devkota, says immediately after the earthquake, the 15-bed facility was overwhelmed by injured people seeking treatment. But in the days following, hospital staff, supported by foreign medical teams from Switzerland, Spain and India, have come to grips with the caseload. But greater needs remain.

''The greatest need right now is the space for our outpatient department and pharmacy, because they have been damaged and we cannot work there. The patients need somewhere safe to be,'' Dr Devkota says.