Home > blog > Saving Lives in Maila, by Dr Gerda Pohl
nepal health

One of the difficulties that a relatively small development organisation like PHASE has is that it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate that our health projects are actually having a positive effect.

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We can measure what is called “outputs”, i.e., how many patients our health workers see, how many women come for family planning, how many children come for vaccinations. What we cannot prove is how many people would have been worse off, or how many deaths we have prevented—even if we had accurate data about deaths from before our involvement, the populations are so small, and other factors so important, it is difficult to prove that we are making a difference.

Yet, even if we don’t have statistics, sometimes the situations are so extreme we can still say, with confidence, that we are preventing unnecessary deaths:

In the village of Maila in Humla district there was an outbreak of diarrhoea (probably from cholera) in the summer of 2007—the year before PHASE started working there. 24 adults died, as well as many more young children and old people—this was partly because people were so scared of catching the deadly disease they left any newly afflicted people on their own and fled their homes. Newly infected people received no treatment whatsoever, increasing the death toll from dehydration.

Since 2008, no such deaths from diarrhoea have occurred in Maila. In 2009 a diarrhoea epidemic swept the area of Far Western Nepal, and people did fall ill in Maila too. However, they received prompt treatment and survived.

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When I visited the health post in 2008, I witnessed a case of diarrhoea being treated by our health workers:

A 42 year old lady had been carried in on her son’s back. She had been ill for 3 days and was now too weak to walk, or even talk, and hadn’t been drinking much. Our health workers quickly assessed her, found that she could still take fluids orally, and prepared a large 2 litre jug of oral rehydration fluids for her. They showed her son how to encourage her to have a few sips every few minutes, and they kept going back to check that she was doing OK. By the end of the afternoon, she had had a total of 3 litres of rehydration fluids. She was feeling so much better that evening she walked back home, with clear instructions as to treatment and prevention of recurrence.

Another case was of a 30 year old man who was carried to the health post unconscious from dehydration. As he was unable to drink, our health workers started an IV drip, but he continued to have diarrhoea as well. Over the next 24 hours, he had a total of 11 litres of rehydration fluids—that is, replacing the total volume of his blood twice over! He, too, walked home the next day.

Both of these people and many more with similar issues would definitely have died from this completely preventable and treatable illness if PHASE was not present in the area. We know from what people tell us, epidemics and multiple deaths were previously an annual occurrence in Maila.

Our heath workers don’t just give life saving treatment when it is needed, they also teach people how to prevent infection through handwashing and safe drinking water and they teach people how to treat mild cases early at home with ORS (oral rehydration solution) so that they do not need to come to the health post.

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It may not be obvious in national statistics, but there is no doubt that PHASE health projects are saving lives!

The monsoon is again in full swing, and our health workers are currently dealing with the annual onslaught of outbreaks of water borne diseases. Please continue to contribute to our fundraising efforts to ensure that we can consolidate and expand our health projects in areas like Maila.