CCOUC & CGH Experience Sharing: “Nepal One Year On: Life and Recovery after the Earthquake”

Eleven CCOUC team members consisting of staff and students visited Nepal from 22 to 28 April 2016. Upon returning, students shared their experiences in Nepal at the “Fresh from the Field” series on 3 May, covering topics related to the sites they visited, and their reflections upon their observations. This event is the second of CCOUC and CGH’s “Fresh from the Field” series, designed to share the experiences and lessons learnt from CCOUC field trips with the local public health community.

The main purpose of the trip to Nepal was to bear witness and learn about the humanitarian situation on the ground, one year after a devastating 7.8 Mw earthquake hit the country in April 2015, killing over 8,000 people and injuring thousands. Whilst there, the team also performed some needs assessments in communities and exchanged with local professionals on disaster preparedness.

During the first part of the trip, the team visited villages in Pipalthok, Gorkha and Sindhupalchok: rural and remote communities close to the epicenter of last year’s earthquake. They performed needs assessments and focus group discussions to understand the imminent health needs of locals, which included potential outbreaks of water-borne infectious diseases due to the limited clean water supply. It was particularly surprising that during the past year, the quality of life in these communities had deteriorated instead of being improved. This can partly be attributed to the onset of the monsoon season, the fuel crisis and the withdrawal of international humanitarian organisations. People were still living in insecure and temporary shelters provided to them after their houses had collapsed; one year on, evidence of reconstruction and rebuilding was scarce. Despite this, the local community demonstrated resilience through their ability to support each other in face of the challenges and provide relief to the population subgroups most affected by the disaster.

During the latter part of the trip, the team visited Dhulikhel Hospital (Kathmandu University Teaching Hospital) and its outreach center, and the Nepal Youth Foundation’s
Nutritional Rehabilitation Home. Through these visits, the team had gained insights into the local health system and services available to the local population.

Overall, this trip provided students with the opportunity to understand more about the importance of public health within a post-disaster setting, and the current fragile socio-economic situation in Nepal.

“It was a very inspiring experience to see how the community was united after the earthquake to provide aid to the victims. Seeing the sites affected by the earthquake really opened my eyes to the damage that was created, and the difficulties encountered by the locals after the earthquake struck,” said Karen Li, a third year CUHK medical student.

This sentiment was echoed by Diane Zou, a CUHK MPH student: “I remember one of the villagers said “we can live without shelter: we can build it ourselves, but we cannot live without water”. This broke my heart because no one should have to make a compromise between such basic needs. It motivated me to work and study harder to hopefully bring change to the community.”