The casual encounter
Sometimes we bump into people and think we’ll never see them again—but we do. 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 see how they are and how they feel about the shelter home. I visited a young woman and her coughing child and casually asked how they were doing. She said this was her second stay at the shelter home. I asked if she was satisfied with the services. “If it hadn’t been for this shelter home, I would have lost my child,” she said immediately. Her answer was a pleasant surprise and I was all ears for her story.
The Timely Move
As the story unfolded, I realized she was the same Anuja Tamang I had talked to on the phone more than 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, I got a call from Nita Mishra, a colleague managing the shelter home, frantically informing me that Anuja’s four-day-old child, Ayush, was seriously ill — with 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 Ayush 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, and asked 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 Anuja in the Kathmandu hospital. That was our first conversation. 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, and was very happy to see her and Ayush in person. I took the baby in my arms and thanked all the partner colleagues who helped Anuja 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”.
The first time Anuja was in the shelter home 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 16 and her husband was a day laborer. Economically, they were not wealthy, 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 and unfortunately died within 2 weeks. This affected her deeply.
The following year, she conceived again and was in her third trimester, when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. The quake affected the lives of 2.8 million people, including Anuja’s family: Their house was ruined. They had to live in a makeshift house covered by flimsy tarpaulin.
During her visit to nearby Primary Health Care Centre at Kharanitar for antenatal check-up, 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 for pregnant, postnatal and lactating women, their new-borns and children under-five, and the shelter had qualified health workers round the clock.
Anuja did not want to lose her child and this time decided to stay in the emergency shelter home. She had almost lost hope when Ayush developed symptoms, but it was rekindled after we offered the best care possible at hospital in Kathmandu when needed.
As I returned from the field that day, I felt immense pride to be part of UNICEF – and the 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