Our friends in Nepal
The 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal this weekend is a stark reminder of just how vulnerable we all are.
Nepal is a deeply impoverished country with a population of approximately 30 million. Only 18.2% of the population lives in urban areas. The rest live in small mountain communities that are difficult to access in the best of times. Now, many are completely cut off from emergency assistance because the earthquake destroyed their roads and means of transportation. The current death toll is 4,300 but we know there will be thousands more as rescue and recovery crews access rural communities and assess the destruction. Once the immediate crisis is stabilized, our deepest concern is for the well-being of mothers and children. We checked in with two organizations who were already working in Nepal and whose work we admire, One Heart Worldwide and CARE. Here’s what they have to say from the front lines.
One Heart Worldwide
Arlene Samen is the President and Founder of One Heart Worldwide, a non-profit organization working to decrease maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity in remote rural areas. Her organization has worked in Nepal since 2010. Our first question, “Are your staff members safe?” was answered with a reassuring “yes.” Samen says, “Two of the districts we work in however, are completely destroyed. In fact, among the districts most affected by the earthquake are two of One Heart World-Wide’s program areas, Dhading and Sindhupalchok. In Dhading, the death toll is currently at 400 and in Sindhupalchok, at almost 900. Wounded people are lying in the open along with the rest of the population for fear of potential aftershocks. We’ve received reports that 75% of the health facilities in Dhading have been destroyed and over 90% sustained heavy damages.”
Samen says that in a normal month, approximately 800 women deliver babies in Dhading. “Right now — there’s nowhere to go. I imagine women are delivering at home or wherever they can considering that 75 to 90% of buildings are gone.” Samen works with several partner organizations and their immediate goals are to bring essential medicines, supplies and skilled trauma personnel to the area to set up basic medical services. Her longer-term goals are to rebuild birth centers. Samen says, “The lack of safe places to give birth is likely to result in additional deaths among pregnant women and their newborns, but also in the general population. Initially we’ll set up large tents to provide medical care but for longer term services, we’ll be starting from scratch, rebuilding in areas where everything is destroyed.”
CARE is a global humanitarian organization with a long history providing direct emergency response to crises that focuses on the needs of women and girls in impoverished areas. Brian Feagans, CARE’s Director of Communications says, “With hospitals and medical clinics overwhelmed by people injured in the quake, roads damaged and transport interrupted, we’re concerned that pregnant women and women with newborns won’t have access to medical support for safe deliveries and post-natal care. That puts them at even greater risk for pregnancy and childbirth-related complications and death. Nepal already has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world with 170 mothers dying per 100,000 births and we know that a disaster means these numbers will go up. We also know that during crises like this, the risk of sexual violence and exploitation increases, especially for women and girls.”
CARE is deploying an emergency crew to join staff members who were already working in Nepal. Their goal is to reach 100,000 people with emergency shelter and clean water as soon as possible. They’re distributing simple yet critical supplies including blankets, tarps, clothes, soap, diapers and toothbrushes. They’ll also be distributing safe birth kits and establishing referral systems for high-risk pregnancies.
Carolyn Baer, MPH, CARE’s Senior Technical Advisor for Sexual and Reproductive Health for Emergencies was in Nepal in early April for a CARE emergency preparedness workshop to develop a Sexual Reproductive and Maternal Health emergency plan. Baer says, “Needless to say, that plan is fresh in everyone’s minds.” Baer spelled out how big this crisis is for pregnant women. “There are more than 1.26 million people who live in the area where CARE is providing services. Of those, we estimate there are more than 50,000 women who are currently pregnant and about 4,200 are due within the next four weeks. This crisis is going to go on for a while and many of these women will be displaced or without shelter for their entire pregnancies. We also know that no matter where you live, about 15% of pregnancies involved some sort of potentially life-threatening complication. Where are they going to go if they can’t access healthcare services with the capabilities to do C-sections, blood transfusions and provide care for preeclampsia?” CARE’s work, along with other emergency relief organizations will help answer that question.
UNFPA estimates that at least 126,000 pregnant women are among the survivors and with health systems shut off, as many as 2 million girls and women of reproductive age can’t access healthcare.
How can you help?
Donate to One Heart Worldwide to cover the costs of local medical personnel, travel, equipment/supplies and transport to construct medical camps. They’re also looking for orthopedic surgeons, ER doctors and OR nurses able to volunteer for a couple of weeks. If you’re in the LA area this weekend, attend their fundraising gala. Learn more here.
Donations to CARE will provide relief to those most affected by this disaster and others around the world.