(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Poor in remote villages struggle to access health care

Sick patients have suffered the most from indefinite strikes as they have to walk a long way to health centres for treatment.
Rameswor Bohara/IRIN

Debu Rawal has walked nearly 20 hours from her remote Jagannath village to reach the health camp at the Kolti airport area of Bajura District, nearly 700km northwest of the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, to get treatment for her one-year-old daughter, who is severely malnourished.

“I had been waiting to see a doctor all these months and finally I decided to carry my daughter on my back to the health camp,” Rawal told IRIN, getting impatient as she stood in the long queue for the check-up.

All villagers waiting in the queue had travelled long distances to seek medical treatment at the camp - organised by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to provide health services and free medicines in food-deficit villages.

According to local health workers, the villages in Bajura are so impoverished that none of the health posts have medicines or medical workers, let alone doctors.

“People often die from diarrhoea and malnutrition which can be treated with ordinary medicines and proper health advice,” said James Pradhan, coordinator of the health camp run by the Adventist and Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

He said lack of food and polluted water had always affected a large number of people in the district, which has long remained neglected due to lack of local governance, worsened by the decade-long armed conflict between the former Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government.

“Nothing has changed even today and we continue to suffer like we did 10 years ago,” said Nanda Prasad Joshi, a local farmer. He said for people in Bajura and many other similar remote districts it was as if the war was still going on; there had been no sign of improvement in their lives despite the end of conflict in November 2006.

Desire for political stability

Joshi and his fellow villagers said they wanted a stable political situation so that a local government representative in their village could help fulfil their basic needs: regular food supplies, medicines, and health workers to treat ordinary diseases.

“All it takes is a small step from the political parties and the government; they should be more sensitive to the poorest communities whose lives have not changed even after all these years,” said aid worker Jibnath Sharma from Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal (SAPPROS), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) helping rural farmers with new farming techniques and irrigation systems.

“It’s really sad to know that many of the villagers had met a doctor for the first time in their lives,” said Heather Sutliff from WFP.

During its emergency food operation launched in 2006, WFP food monitors found that a large number of people deprived of food were also suffering from various diseases. “So we decided to provide health services through our camp as part of our food aid for the first time,” said Sutliff.

No road

Over the past decade, the government has been planning to build a road for Bajura’s people, but there is not even a dirt road, said local villagers.

“A single road of 65km can change lives so easily in a short time, but when that will happen is a big question,” said local engineer Jiwan Joshi.

It currently takes nearly eight hours on foot to reach the closest market place or town, and the only way to get there more quickly is by aeroplane, which the villagers cannot afford, said Joshi.

nn/at/cb

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