Generous donations to World Vision's Nepal Earthquake Appeal have supported the reconstruction of damaged birthing centres, making childbirth a lot safer for thousands of mothers and their newborns.
“No baby has died here due to asphyxia,” explains Sumitra Dhakal, the leading Auxiliary Nurse Midwife from a spotless delivery room at the Palungtar Birthing Centre.
Asphyxia (dying from lack of oxygen) is just one of the many complex medical emergencies Sumitra and her team have been trained to respond to at the centre in the mountainous Gorkha district, near the epicentre of the April 2015 Nepal Earthquake.
In a country where many expectant mothers in rural locations have little access to healthcare and often deliver their babies at home, this health worker is all too aware that the services her team provides are lifesaving.
In the initial days after the first earthquake on 25 April and a subsequent tremor on 12 May, an alarming picture of need emerged. More than 70 percent of rural health posts were damaged or destroyed, and rumours began to spread that still functioning hospitals and health posts were overcrowded, emergency stocks depleted and the injured were receiving treatment on the street.
It was in this environment that expectant mothers were giving birth. Around 12 babies were being born every hour without access to basic healthcare in the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, UNICEF said at the time.
With deep cracks running like spider webs up the walls of the Palungtar centre, Sumitra’s team were forced outside – delivering babies and treating patients in a flimsy tent placed in the centre’s yard.
“There were a lot of difficulties from working in those tents,” Sumitra remembers. “We didn’t know where all of our regular equipment was, so when we needed to use a suction pump for a woman in the final stages of labour, we couldn’t find it - all of our equipment had dispersed in the earthquake.”
Despite these challenges, all of babies delivered during this time survived, Sumrita reveals. No doubt her talents and those of her medical team played a crucial role during those raw, post-earthquake days.
Auxiliary Nurse Midwife Sumitra Dhakal (left) says repairs to the Palungtar Birthing Centre (right) have made it much easier for health staff to make childbirth safer and more comfortable for mothers and babies alike.
Building back better
The shared motto for aid agencies working on the Nepal Earthquake response is to “build back better”. The Palungtar Birthing Centre is the perfect example of this.
Repaired by World Vision, it’s a hive of activity, hosting an array of brightly dressed women who huddle on benches waiting for treatment. Their chatter is broken by the singing of seven-year-old Aakriti, who playfully entertains the group with her mother Amrita looking on. Amrita is nursing her newborn son, Anup, and considers herself a regular at the centre.
“I live just five minutes from here,” says Amrita, “So I received all of my pre-natal support at the birthing centre, from check-ups to delivery.”
Sumitra delivered Amrita’s daughter seven years ago in the old centre and then delivered Anup in the newly repaired centre last month. Amrita says the experiences were wildly different.
“There weren’t a lot of beds or equipment in the first centre - just a single room that was shared by many expectant mothers,” she says. “I gave birth on a cold bed, and there was no medicine to ease my pain.”
“Things have been a lot easier the second time around,” Amrita continues. “The facilities are much better and all of the equipment we need is here.”
There is no denying that childbirth is still a dangerous event in Nepal. Families in hard to reach places have limited healthcare options; often living several hours walk from a health post or facility. There’s still much to do to make childbirth safe for all mothers and babies in Nepal, especially after the devastation caused by the earthquake.
But as more health posts are built and repaired across the country, the Palungtar Birthing Centre is a shining example of what’s possible.
Amrita delivered her baby Anup in the newly repaired birthing centre. "The facilities are much better," she says.