‘Quake may jeopardise progress in health sector’

- Manish Gautam, Kathmandu

May 24, 2015-

Four weeks after the Great Earthquake that destroyed many health centres, experts have warned that health achievement made by the country over the years might be in jeopardy.

Over 300 hospitals and health posts were reduced to rubble while over 600 sustained damages in the 14 worst affected districts. These health institutions provide safe delivery facilities and care to the newborns, among many other health services.

The collapse of 139 birthing centres and obstetric care facilities means that health workers are devoid of infrastructure required to provide services smoothly while the fear of aftershocks has left many expecting mothers to choose home for delivery. The inability of many Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs), ensured that delivery is done in health facility or by trained midwives, to resume their work in these districts also puts the lives of expecting mothers in peril. “We expect increase in home deliveries,” said Dr Shilu Aryal of Family Health Division under the Department of Health Services (DoHS).

Nepal has been able to reduce the deaths of pregnant mothers significantly and is on right track to meet the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals. Dr Aryal stressed that a thorough study needs to be done before assessing the influence of the dilapidated health systems of 14 districts in relation to the achievements of the rest of the districts.

Meanwhile, following the earthquake, reports have indicated that there has been an increase in the number of miscarriages along with increase in premature birth that risks the lives of the newborn. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates some 126,000 pregnant women are affected. Giulia Vallese, UNFPA representative for Nepal, said the disruption of health system following the earthquake is likely to derail the achievements made by the country. “Apart from the maternal mortality, we have evidence that there is increase in gender-based violence in the aftermath of any disaster which exacerbates the already vulnerable women,” Vallese said. “The vaccination programme has been disrupted. Some are running it while others are not,” said Dr Sinendra Upreti, director general at the DoHS. “Babies risk contracting diseases but we hope that a month delay will not have huge impact as health personnel themselves struggle to get back on their feet.”

Fearing outbreak of diseases such as measles, more than half a million children living in temporary shelters after the April 25 quake are being targeted in an emergency vaccination drive. Likewise, as nutrition remained compromised for mothers during the earthquake, its impact are apparent on the child with low birth weight, experts say. Unicef states that an estimated 70,000 children under five are at the risk of malnutrition. “Anxiety will affect breastfeeding. The weather is cold and mothers are living in shelter under fear and its repercussion can be felt in amount the milk produced by the mother,” said Dr Ramesh Kanta Adhikari. He said disruption in exclusive breastfeeding will have serious  impact on the mental and physical health of the newborn. “First, let us save the lives of the newborn and think about other matters later,” he said.

Published: 25-05-2015 07:05

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