2015 EARTHQUAKE: FOUNDING OF MOUNTAIN HEART NEPAL AND INITIAL AIM
Mountain Heart Nepal was founded in response to the 2015 earthquake by a group of young Nepalese medical professionals, led by Dr. Aban Gautam. The newly formed non-profit organisation Mountain Heart Nepal organized outreach medical camps in numerous earthquake affected regions throughout the country.
Direct and indirect consequences of the 2015 earthquake
Over 9000 individuals lost their lives when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and subsequent aftershocks shook Nepal to its core in 2015. People were displaced in temporary camps and shelters, while other more remote communities stayed disconnected from healthcare facilities for a prolonged time. Affected rural areas also saw 90% of their health infrastructure damaged, making these areas extra dependent on an external supply of medication and other relief items. It quickly became apparent that the temporary shelters where people were forced to reside significantly increased the risk of an outbreak of communicable disease due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and water unfit for consumption. The immediate solution to address the health issues in the remote locations was to provide primary medical care through mobile outreach clinics.
A lackluster response
The young medical professionals who stood at the cradle of Mountain Heart Nepal naturally didn’t shy away from their professional and moral obligation to save as many lives as possible. After working non-stop for days in the hospitals of Kathmandu to contain the situation in the capital, these doctors turned their eye to the worst affected rural areas. While the situation in Kathmandu was still far from resolved but somewhat stabilizing, many of our young doctors recognized the need for relief workers to head out to the disconnected areas. Many of us -still active to this day in Mountain Heart Nepal- volunteered to support the local organizations in their relief attempts, but were promptly left perplexed and increasingly frustrated with the lack of coordination and unwillingness to go to regions of which no news had been received for days. Sadly, it instead became clear that resources were consistently wrongly attributed to communities in which interventions were already underway. Unwilling to keep waiting for a response from the Nepalese government and international aid, Dr. Aban Gautam took initiative and united his like-minded colleagues under the banner of Mountain Heart Nepal. Independent outreach clinics were organized using a cluster approach, bringing essential resources and expertise from various local organizations to where it mattered most.
Mountain Heart Nepal did not just bring doctors and other medical professionals to often overlooked districts for health check-ups, treatment, and prescription refills; it also provided expressive therapy (through arts, music, dance), psycho-social support, relief items, and even basic nutrition education during those expeditions.
Although the initial focus of Mountain Heart Nepal was emergency medical relief, soon the organization expanded and focused its attention on providing free medical care to people in remote, inaccessible, and austere environments throughout the country still suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake. Even at present, the outreach clinics still continue.
CHALLENGES OF NEPAL AND THE NEED FOR MHN TO CONTINUE ITS WORK
Much of rural Nepal is comprised of hilly and mountainous terrain. The rugged landscape and the lack of proper infrastructure make much of the country very hard to access, limiting the availability of primary health care in many communities.
The only readily available mode of transportation for many people are their own feet – with or without shoes. This heavily delays treatment, which can in many cases be detrimental to patients in need of immediate medical attention.
Moreover, most of the large and advanced healthcare facilities are concentrated in urban areas, while small health centers located in rural areas often lack adequate infrastructure and a skilled workforce.
The many volunteers of Mountain Heart Nepal continue to dedicate themselves to providing medical and non-medical outreach to regions lacking the resources and personnel capable to tackle health issues independently. Even to this date, the need for direct relief is necessary as a large number of people remain displaced in temporary shelters, greatly increasing the risks to their health.
Partly through growing government cooperation and coordination, Mountain Heart Nepal is also one of the organizations taxed with the heavy responsibility of being ready for the many crises that continuously challenge the people of Nepal. As a result, Mountain Heart Nepal responded to two more natural disasters of catastrophic proportions in recent history: the floodings in the Terai and Bhaktapur, in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Furthermore, we believe in taking steps toward more sustainable, affordable and professional healthcare for everyone in Nepal. In this field, we have contributed to the development of community-run primary healthcare centers by analyzing the risks and needs of said communities and providing these local lifelines with essential equipment, medical training, and preventive measures.
A mountain of challenges continues to cast its shadow over Nepal. But Mountain Heart Nepal remains prepared to scale that mountain -again and again- for a better and healthier future for Nepal.