Medical teams ramp up operations in quake-hit Nepal

Foreign NGOs and the military work feverishly to treat the wounded, but many remain cut off from proper healthcare.

    Medical teams ramp up operations in quake-hit Nepal
    The UN has says eight million people have been affected by the disaster [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]

    Melamchi, Nepal - A tiny baby swaddled in a dusty blanket lay on the floor of a medical tent at a rural Nepali army base surrounded by six Polish emergency workers.

    A burly Polish medic lifted the 20-day-old boy's delicate arm, feeling for a vein. The child was dehydrated, but his eyes fluttered open as he sucked fluid from a syringe. His green T-shirt bore a print of a large smiley face.

    The child's mother sat in another tent as a medic removed the twig and gauze cast on her bruised arm. She was injured when she ran into her crumbling home to save her baby when the earthquake struck Nepal on April 25.

    Seven days later, a helicopter delivering aid brought them to a medical outpost.

    One week after a powerful earthquake hit Nepal, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 7,250, the number of dead continues to rise.

    The UN says 1.4 million Nepalese will require food aid over the coming months [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]

    Many of the more than 14,200 injured in remote areas remain stranded and haven't received medical or humanitarian aid. The UN has said eight million people - more than a quarter of the 28 million who live in one of the world's poorest nations - have been affected by the disaster.

    According to the UN, 1.4 million people will require food aid over the next three months.

    Since Wednesday, a rapid response emergency team with the NGO the Polish Centre for International Aid has been treating the wounded medevacked by helicopter from the mountainous areas around Melamchi village in Sindhupalchowk - one the districts hardest hit by the disaster.

    Dead and dying

    At least 2,560 deaths - more than anywhere else in the country - have been recorded in Sindhupalchowk, which lies northeast of the capital. The death toll in Kathmandu stands at more than 1,620.

    Critical cases are still coming in to the medical post that's been set up on an airfield.

    "We're almost kind of operating in a hospital emergency situation," said Wojciech Wilk, CEO of the Polish Centre for International Aid.

    Wilk likens his team to "Swiss Army tools". They're paramedics and surgeons trained for helicopter rescues. They decided to set up in Melamchi after scouting different locations by motorbike.

    Melamchi is less than 50km from Kathmandu, and can be reached by a road that snakes along the expansive Indravati River. Along the way are scenes of pure devastation: Piles of stones and tin sheets are all that remain of many homes. Boulders and rocks from landslides caused by the earthquake lie strewn along the damaged road.

    Many quake victims have had to walk for hours, if not days, to receive much-needed medical care [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]

    Farming communities live here and ruined homes lie amid verdant steppes of rice paddies on the sloping mountainside. Almost anything made of stone has crumbled.

    Many villages are inaccessible by road and the mountainous terrain and poor communication lines are major hurdles for rescuers, said Major Prem Hamal who is in command at the army base. 

    "Because of the lack of communication in the villages, people are coming down and informing me [about the injured]," said Hamal.

    Tending to the injured 

    Light helicopters landed frequently on Friday and Saturday afternoon carrying the wounded, many of them elderly, and army personal raced to collect the stretchers while the Polish medics got down to work.

    Many wounds have gone untreated since the earthquake and infections are rising. Some crude amputations, mostly of fingers, have been performed to free people from the rubble.

    Before nightfall, all the victims were dispatched elsewhere: Those requiring long-term care were sent to a nearby clinic where the Japanese Red Cross and a Czech emergency team are stationed; some were sent home with medicine; the most critical were medevacked to Kathmandu.

    But being sent home doesn't necessarily mean all is well. "Sometimes it's better to die at home than at a hospital," said Lukasz Szozda, manager of the Polish emergency team.

    Lodki Tamang was at the airfield with five family members who tried to get on board an Indian army Mi-17 bound for Kathmandu. Her village - devastated by a landslide - is located a two-day walk from Melamchi.

    "Everything has been destroyed," she said with a sweep of her hand, a small silver bangle flashing on her wrist. "There's nothing to eat, there's nothing to drink."

    Missing medical equipment

    The Polish medics don't have an X-ray machine or other diagnostic equipment to handle complicated surgeries that require full anaesthesia. 

    Szozda said they'd been told advanced equipment was on the way but there are no signs of it yet. "I will believe them when I see them," he said.

    Naoki Kokawa, an official with the Japanese Red Cross, said the wounded were still arriving, many by foot if they're able.

    For the relief groups, it's a difficult decision deciding where to search for survivors.

    One week after a powerful earthquake hit Nepal, many Nepalis in remote areas remain stranded [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]

    Ann Kluyjtmams, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders, said helicopters aren't able to land everywhere and it's an ethical dilemma with so many areas still to reach. "Where do you go? Where do you land?" Kluyjtmams told Al Jazeera.

    Wilk underscored the crucial role air transport has played. "The helicopter support is needed not only for the medical part, but also for provision of humanitarian aid," he said.

    People walking along the road between Melamchi and Kathmandu said they had not received any relief visits.

    Sunny Danuwar, 20, walked with a group of people towards a truck filled with supplies. His village is located an hour's walk across rice paddies from the mountaintop on the other side of the road.

    "I came to collect [aid] and ask why we haven't received anything yet," he said.

    Dhimsem Majhi from a nearby fishing village said soldiers arrived, but didn't drop off any aid. "The army came here to count dead bodies. They didn't ask if we need anything. They just took the data and left," said Majhi.

    RELATED: Nepalese picking up the pieces after devastating quake

    While medical operations are under way, many lives remain in danger.

    Jivian Tamang, 11, was brought to the clinic over the weekend with an injured arm that became severely infected.

    If he's not medevacked, "this kid will not survive the night", Wilk told Al Jazeera.

    At first it appeared Jivian arrived without family, but as Polish medics treated the moaning boy, a slight man in his 60s slipped under the tent and sat down quietly, cross-legged and shoeless, at the foot of his stretcher.

    Jivian was playing outside on a swing when the earthquake hit, said Bakhat Man Tamang, the boy's grandfather who takes care of him. Their house came crashing down near Jivian, fracturing his arm at the elbow.

    He hadn't received any treatment and the wound festered. Jivian and Bakhat walked five hours to get to the clinic, and both were later medevacked to Kathmandu.

    "I'm very worried about him," said Bakhat before boarding the helicopter. "He is all I have."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    The priceless racism of the Duke of Edinburgh

    Prince Philip has done the world an extraordinary service by exposing the racist hypocrisy of "Western civilisation".

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    China will determine the future of Venezuela

    There are a number of reasons why Beijing continues to back Maduro's government despite suffering financial losses.