There is a close relationship between health and education. Medical care is sorely lacking in much of the Upper Dolpo. Very treatable diseases and injuries can be life altering, or life ending. Only a few of the villages, Karang, Namdo, and Saldang, have a health post, and none are open year round. The nurse must not only look after the health care needs of her village, but also of other villages within a days walk. Clinics are held at the village schools. Villagers without access to a nurse visit the amchi for their medical needs. The amchi uses medicinal herbs and traditional techniques to treat the villagers.
It is the long held dream of Yak Girl Dorje Dolma to build a small, non-profit hospital in Karang, her home village. She has been working tirelessly to raise money for this dream with her book tours.
Jigme’s story illustrates the desperate need for more health facilities. He lost his hand, and nearly his life, because he lived several weeks away from the medical help he needed. We made a 5 minute video of his story. Please have a look. His joy is contagious!
(spoiler alert, we initiated contact with Victoria Hand Project and I was privileged to be with Jigme in Kathmandu for the final fitting of his new prosthetic hand. I met with him 2 months later and he said it is so much like a real hand that he sometimes forgets that it is not.)
There is an amazing hospital at Bhejir (funded by American and Swiss donors) but patients must cross a 5,000+ meter pass to get there – not an easy task even when healthy! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the annual budget of the hospital at Bhejir is only $35,000 US. Last year they treated ~1,000 patients.
Most nurses in the Upper Dolpo are originally from this region and have returned to help their villages. Tashi Bhuti Lama, originally from Bhejir, decided to become a nurse at age 3 when she witnessed her mother’s death during childbirth. Now 29 years-old, she is a shining example of how education in the Dolpo helps their communities.
Nurse Tashi Bhuti Lama, with a mother after a safe delivery
|Dolma Choekyi is the Health Assistant at the Karang Health Post. She is from Karang. An NGO in Switzerland, Schulverein Lo-Manthang, sponsored her education and they now cover her salary. (I met Schulverein Lo-Manthang’s founder, Sonngard, on my first trek to Dolpo in 2015. She was on her way out and we were just going in. She told me then about her work and I found it interesting – little did I know that Altitude Project was in my future. She has become a dear friend and mentor.)
Dolma is treating mothers at a clinic at Tiling School.
The obstetric and neonatal care provided by Dolpo nurses has dramatically reduced deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. Their health awareness and hygiene education programs have helped mitigate many risks. Their assistance during birth permits timely treatment for serious complications. The clinics also provide many family planning options. Spacing between pregnancies is an influential factor in infant mortality.
The age of the mother is another critical factor. Girls who are who are forced to abandon their education often marry while very young, and have early and multiple pregnancies. Both are a serious medical risk to the mother and her children.
Nurse Tsering Wangmo says, “I hope to see my community become more aware of their rights in health services, or any other fundamental rights, and voice for them. Having better, comfortable, and longer lives, with their integrity, culture, and authenticity intact.”
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
― Albert Einstein
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO RUN A HIGH ALTITUDE HEALTH POST?
Pran Maya B385 graduated from Thrangu Rinpoche’s free school and went on to do 3 years of intensive medical training so she could run a health post. She was sent to Humde in Manang District.
“People came to the clinic whenever they felt ill — mostly with cases of diarrhea, typhoid, tonsillitis, hypertension, diabetes, piles, gastritis, jaundice, viral influenza, chicken pox, for blood work, oral health related diseases, and others. Complicated cases were sent to the central hospital to get treatment.
I also made home visits. Sometimes I visited schools and taught about the importance of sanitation, brushing teeth, and hand washing. These topics surprised the villagers since they had never heard of these practices. Similarly, when the opportunity arose I mingled with the locals to discuss nutrition, family planning, and water filtration.
In the cold winter people move towards warmer places. Their livelihood depends on subsistence agriculture and it’s fascinating how they prepare themselves for the cold. Before snow falls they dry all the food for winter. Potatoes and items made from wheat and the buckwheat, seasonal vegetables and apples are some of the tastiest I have ever had.”
A great example of how education for children in remote areas of Nepal pays dividends when they finally return to villages in the Himalaya regions.
The following reply in Dho Tarap, a Tibetan village:
We find it useless to go to a health post. Most of the time there is no health worker anyway and if we find him he does not have medicine. If our children are sick we have to fly to Kathmandu. But that is very expensive and most of us cannot afford that. So usually we ask our friends if they have at home some medicine which they might have taken with them during the last visit to the capital or we hope that some tourists give us some western medicine. All of us wish that we would have a health post with a permanent staff, who are able to give us medicine.