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Notes from Nepal: Sanjeeb Sapkota Returns from Humanitarian Journey

Our own Dr. Sanjeeb Sapkota, medical epidemiologist, returned from a journey to his home country of Nepal, which suffered a devastating earthquake of magnitude 7.8 (Richter scale) on April 25, and a subsequent one on May 12 with a magnitude of 7.3. As a result, more than 9,000 persons died, thousands were injured, 70,000 became homeless, and more than 500,000 were displaced within Nepal.

His heart moved by news reports, Sanjeeb traveled to Nepal on May 6. He endeavored to use his public health expertise on different teams of aid workers to help survivors. The teams focused their services in rural communities of three districts that were heavily affected by the earthquake. These included including Sindhupalchowk, Dhading, and Kathmandu.

“After arriving in Nepal, I travelled to several earthquake-hit areas in rural parts of the country,” said Sanjeeb. “I saw most houses made from mud and stone were partially to totally destroyed, but the ones made of cement and iron rods survived.”

First, Sanjeeb worked with a team that distributed relief supplies like rice, tents, tarpaulin, and blankets to nearly 1,000 earthquake survivors. He then worked with a medical team that provided medical treatment to the hundreds of people seeking help.

While serving on the medical team on May 12, the second powerful earthquake of 7.3 magnitude struck. Sanjeeb witnessed a massive landslide occur. Fortunately, no one from his medical team, family, or himself were injured.

“Our medical team treated people and provided them with health education on how to purify and decontaminate water using chlorine, and the significance of using toilets [versus going out in the field] to prevent outbreak,” he said.

The team also conducted a rapid health assessment of the people who visited the medical camps in different districts. The findings from that assessment showed people were drinking unpurified water directly from natural sprouts, there was no outbreak of diarrhea or respiratory disease thus far, and toilets in most of the damaged houses were not fit for use. The findings also revealed almost half the households assessed had at least one individual categorized under ‘vulnerable population’ such as children under the age of 12, elders above the age of 60, pregnant woman, and persons with disability.

“They needed to be prioritized for special care during disaster of this nature,” said Sanjeeb.

These findings help health authorities in Nepal many ways, such as in informing how to direct resources to activities on what’s important to prevent the spread of disease and outbreaks.

“Decontaminating water and increasing the sanitation goes a long way towards safeguarding health of survivors,” he said.

Sanjeeb also made a presentation to government officials and shared the ‘incident command system’ that he had developed for the prevention and management of the outbreak following disaster. Based on his experiences of emergency management during pandemic influenza in 2009 and Japanese tsunami in 2011, Sanjeeb developed the systems tailored for the earthquake in Nepal.

“The government of Nepal too had command systems in place, but these had many gaps,” he said. “The government officials appreciated what I presented them.”

Sanjeeb intends to travel to Nepal again in the next six months to follow up on the relief and the recovery work where he was personally involved.

“This trip to Nepal marks one of the most worthwhile travels I have made, where in a short amount of time, I was able to make meaningful impact on the lives of people,” he said. “I feel so grateful to Jean [Orelien] for his support to this mission to Nepal and for our colleagues at SciMetrika who have kept Nepal and Nepalese in their thoughts and prayers.”

He said this disaster has certainly exposed Nepal’s vulnerability and claimed many lives, but it has also united countrymen and garnered worldwide sympathy and support. This has made room for building new a Nepal and do better for the new generation.

“There are hundreds of organizations — governmental, international, non-governmental — both in and out of Nepal that directly and indirectly provide relief and support to the survivors, and donors have the opportunity to choose from a large list of them,” said Sanjeeb. “But the fast and effective way to support survivors is to donate to the small and local organizations that already have projects underway and are looking for funds to complete them.”

Learn more on relief efforts to Nepal on the USAID web site. Also, this expanded list of aid agencies, courtesy CNN, includes organizations that accepts funds to provide help to the earthquake survivors.


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