By Abhilasha Gurung
The casual encounter
Sometimes we bump into people we hardly think we would meet again in life. It happened to me this winter when I visited a UNICEF-supported shelter home for pregnant and lactating mothers in Kharanitar, Nuwakot.
Whenever I visit the shelter homes, I usually chat with patients to know how they are doing and how they feel about the shelter home. I stopped by a young woman with a child and casually asked how she and her child were doing. She said her child had been suffering from cough and this was her second stay at the shelter home. I asked if she was satisfied with the services provided there. “If it hadn’t been for this shelter home, I would have lost my child,” she said. Her immediate answer was a pleasant surprise for me and I was all ears to know her story.
The timely move
As the story unfolded, I realized that she was the same Anuja Tamang I had talked over phone five months ago, in July.
At that time, after delivering her baby boy at the nearest Primary Health Care Center (PHC), Anuja was staying at the shelter home. One morning, Nita Mishra, a colleague managing the shelter home called me and frantically informed that Anuja’s four-day-old child was seriously ill, that he showed symptoms of hypothermia, passiveness, jaundice and an abnormal crying pattern. On top of that, Anuja was very sad, her morale was down and she had lost her hopes for her child to survive. Following suggestion from the PHC’s Doctor Rhicha Nepal, we immediately decided to transfer the child and the mother to one of the better-equipped hospitals in Kathmandu.
I informed UNICEF Nepal Country Office for approval, asked the partner colleagues to make necessary arrangements. UNICEF provided support for all travel and accommodation cost through partner Nepal Public Health Association (NEPHA) and within few hours the child and the mother were moved to Kathmandu.
Two days later, I called up Anuja in the hospital in Kathmandu. That was my first conversation with Anuja. I was very relieved and happy to find out that both mother and child were doing well. Our timely decision and action to transfer the child and the mother to Kathmandu proved to be wise.
This winter, I was delighted to discover that she was the same Anuja for whom I had been so worried five months ago and was very happy to see Anuja and her child in person. I took the baby in my arms and thanked all the partner colleagues who helped Anuja to make sure her child survived. Anuja was deeply thankful to UNICEF and added, “they transported me, my husband and my child to Kanti Hospital, where he was admitted for seven days and I was admitted to Teaching Hospital for nine days. They took care of all the expenses, which we could never afford, never in our whole life”.
When Anuja was waiting in the shelter home five months ago with her sick child, she had lost all hope to save this child because she had already lost her firstborn.
Anuja had been married at the age of 16 and her husband was a daily wage earner. Economically they were not well off but life was pretty good until she delivered a baby boy at the Maternity Hospital in Kathmandu in August 2014. Upon returning home, the baby developed high fever for four days and unfortunately he died on the 14th day. This had affected her deeply.
The following year, she conceived again and she was in her third trimester, when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. The quake affected the lives of 2.8 million people and Anuja’s family was not spared either. Their house was ruined and they started living in a makeshift house covered by flimsy tarpaulin.
It was during her visit to nearby Primary Health Care Centre at Kharanitar for antenatal check-up that she learnt about the UNICEF-supported emergency shelter home for earthquake-affected women and children. The shelter home was in operation one month after the earthquake in order to provide a safe and friendly place to stay for pregnant, postnatal and lactating women, their new-borns and children under-five with qualified health workers round the clock.
This time Anuja did not want to lose her child and had decided to stay in the emergency shelter home. She had almost lost her hopes when her child grew peculiar symptoms but the hope was rekindled as we offered her and her child the best care possible and scrambled to send her to hospital in Kathmandu when needed.
As I returned from the field that day, I felt immense pride to be part of UNICEF- part of the larger humanitarian assistance we provide worldwide as we do in this small part of Nepal. Throughout our journey, we have not only saved lives but also have kindled hope for mothers like Anuja.
Abhilasha Gurung is UNICEF Nepal’s Health officer based first in Nuwakot Emergency Site, and now in the Sindhupalchowk Emergency Site