Dr. Paul Auerbach says access to remote villages and delivery of medical supplies are two of the biggest hurdles relief workers face in quake-ravaged Nepal.
For the medical professionals providing assistance in quake-ravaged Nepal, the biggest questions are clear.
Who needs help the most? And how do we get it to them?
More than 5,500 people have died from Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake. More than 11,000 people are reported injured and 70,000 houses have been destroyed.
Those numbers are expected to rise as relief crews begin to leave the capital of Kathmandu and head into more remote villages closer to the quake’s epicenter.
Healthline has set up a web page where readers can donate to the relief efforts.
Dr. Paul Auerbach, the chief medical officer for Healthline, is helping first-hand. He arrived in Nepal early this week and joined other medical personnel treating injured quake victims in the capital of Kathmandu. He is also writing blogs on the situation in the quake zone.
Auerbach, who traveled to Haiti in 2010 to help earthquake victims there, said on Wednesday night the situation in Kathmandu is improving in the sense that the most seriously injured victims are getting treatment. He noted there are still victims who may be discovered by rescue teams, as well as injured people who will arrive in the capital from outside areas.
While quake victims at hospitals are getting treatment, Auerbach says people who are staying in camps because they fear an aftershock might destroy their homes still need attention. Primary care and identification of infections are top priorities.
“There is a great deal to be done to prevent the onset of communicable infectious diseases,” Auerbach wrote in an email. “There is strong collaboration in all directions.”
Auerbach said getting supplies delivered is the biggest obstacle at the moment. The delays are chiefly due to the limited capacity of the Kathmandu airport. In particular, orthopedic surgery supplies are needed, as well as sanitation supplies.
Determining the location of victims in villages outside the capital and getting supplies and personnel to them is also problematic.
Auerbach said the Nepal quake clearly shows the need for every country to have a natural emergency response system.
“Natural disasters are always going to occur and the world needs to be prepared for them,” he said.
Doctors Without Borders has 61 expert volunteers in Nepal, according to its website.
On Thursday, one of the organization’s cargo planes landed in Kathmandu. It contained four inflatable tents that will be used to construct a field hospital.
In an email to Healthline, Dr. Brigitte Vasset, the organization’s deputy medical director, said they are looking at an area northwest of Kathmandu to establish the temporary hospital. Nepal health officials have told the organization the needs are significant there.
Vasset added her crews are also assessing villages west of the capital to see which district hospitals need the most help.
“Kathmandu and Bhaktapur are easily accessible now,” said Vasset. “However, small mountain villages that have been destroyed or even bigger towns are difficult to access. Some can only be reached by helicopter, while it can take up to seven hours on foot to reach others.”
Vasset added her group is focusing on these outlying areas instead of the larger cities.
“There where we can have a greater added value,” she said.
As part of that strategy, a Doctors Without Borders team consisting of a doctor, nurse, and logistics expert left Kathmandu on Thursday in a helicopter to set up mobile clinics in the mountainous regions outside the capital.
Another team has delivered 200 shelter kits to the village of Gumba. Another squad is providing support at a hospital in the Bhaktapur district.
On Wednesday, one of the group’s trucks left Kathmandu for the village of Gorkha, where the inpatient department in the town’s hospital was destroyed in the quake. The truck is carrying a rapid surgical intervention kit. Surgeons are also headed to the area.
Doctors Without Borders has also assessed the situation at four hospitals in Kathmandu. They are focusing on the trauma and nephrology, or kidney care, departments. Those medical personnel are dealing with a number of patients suffering from “crush syndrome.” That’s where injuries to skeletal muscles cause shock and kidney failure.
One of the hospitals had a list of 200 patients who need kidney dialysis for their chronic conditions. Eight machines have been employed to deal with the demand.
Niki Clark, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said they have sent eight disaster relief specialists to Nepal. They’ve joined dozens of other volunteers from Red Cross agencies around the world.
“In situations like this, we all pull together. It’s all hands on deck, ” said Clark.
Those volunteers are coordinating with the Nepal Red Cross, which has 300 staff members and 1,500 volunteers helping quake victims.
“The Nepal Red Cross is very strong,” said Clark. “They’re very good with this kind of thing.”
She said Red Cross crews are first assessing the damage and trying to determine where assistance is most quickly and desperately needed.
“We’ll focus on where help is needed the most. It’s going to be a challenge,” said Clark. “It’s a difficult country to get around in the best of times.” Heavy rains have complicated relief efforts.
Clark said food, water, and shelter are always top priorities. But, she added, medical supplies are a high-level concern because of the number of people injured.
People who are uninjured can live in tents for days, but some of the injured need medical attention immediately.
“Medical supplies and healthcare workers are a priority,” Clark said.