Why the MBBS docs are thinking twice about serving in earthquake zone May 29th

The truth

I know a doctor here in Nepal who once spent a month trekking from village to village in his district, working with every VDC, to examine women and find the ones who could benefit from a specialized surgical camp set up by a German charity group.  And for every doctor and nurse in Nepal, going on a “health camp” to a rural area is part of normal practice.

The innuendo

On May 26th, there was a short article in Republica newspaper bemoaning the fact that 300 doctors are needed in the earthquake-affected areas of Nepal,  and only about 19 responded to the government’s call to work in the earthquake zone. The writer was heaping shame on the young doctors of Nepal.

The response

I wrote a quick response, since the volunteer project I do here in Nepal involves working with those very same doctors, at the beginning of their career.

Today on Twitter I see that the original article has been retweeted more than a hundred times, and seemingly refuses to die. I replied to the retweets offering to give more info as to why young docs might be reluctant but – the writer of the original article did not call me.

Don’t pay  attention to Twitter?

I am aware that Twitter is a bit shadowy. Many of these people who tweet are seeking sensational stories and false outrage. Any twelve-year-old with a mobile can tweet. We don’t know who is “serious” – so, often it’s best to ignore them.

But this time I will be a bit more direct.

Here is what the young doctors are being asked to do, from what it sounds like.

1) go to work in a recent earthquake zone where the houses, schools and health posts have been destroyed.

2) live in the same kind of temporary structure that the people they serve are living in, just as exposed to the elements as the others;

3) Use a temporary structure as a clinic, just like the one that they are living in. There will be no guarantee of a recordkeeping system, no X-ray equipment, no lab equipment, not even a microscope. Not necessarily an examining table, no medical supplies accumulated from the past. There will be no way to dispense drugs if they write a prescription. If there were supplies at that location in the past, they now lie in a heap under rubble that used to be a health post.

4) there is no security personnel. There are reports that the aid now being delivered gets hijacked by village strongmen. Even before the earthquake, there has been a problem with aggressive behavior toward doctors when things don’t go well; the problem with “thrashing” has not gone away and will most likely get worse – the doctor’s physical safety is in doubt.

5) there will be no guarantee of a senior doctor of any kind to supervise or provide advice.

6) In many cases, the young doctor has never lived in a village – they grew up in Kathmandu.

Does this list help? Do you get the picture?

You can’t provide the kind of medical care you were trained to provide, on a picnic. You need tools.

You can’t do it while you are on a two-year’s long camping trip. How does the doctor get food and water and laundry?

The young doctors who signed a commitment to serve and repay loans, could not have known they would be asked to serve in an earthquake zone. Not even Albert Schweitzer would work under these conditions. Many of these young doctors are the same ones who rushed to the affected areas to provide immediate relief in the first weeks. They are not lacking in patriotism. In fact, a few of them did grow up in a village setting. In my teaching I met one  young doc from Makwanpur who was expert at handling oxen when it was time to plant paddy. But for most? Kathmandu.

The doctors need equipment, a roof over their head, and  somebody to prepare rice while they work.

The Nepal Army is in the affected area, doing the backbreaking work to help the residents prepare for monsoon. But while the Army guys were doing physical training everyday and camping while on maneuvers, the young doctors were in the library. All of a sudden, for all intents and purposes, they are asked to join the Army on deployment.

The government needs to  work on these issues and make an effective plan. The article in Republica resorts to shaming and namecalling. This is not the time to browbeat the twentytwo-year-old MBBS graduates, nor is it time to shame the Nepal Medical Council for bringing up the elements of an effective plan.  With a few more questions  the journalist could have gotten to the other issues and provided a service to the reader.

Alas, he did not.

June 3rd update: The United Nations announced yesterday that it would send fifty special “Medical Camp Kits” to affected rural areas. The UN also supplied the information that there are fifty foreign medical teams still operating in the affected zone. Here is their press release.

If you got this far

My second book is a novel, and one of the themes is to explore the role of violence in Buddhist culture of Nepal. You can get it at Vajra Books on Jyatha Marg in Thamel.


Many people decide to read a book only after looking at the back cover. Here’s the one for The Sacrament of the Goddess https://goo.gl/PGTW30

About Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

These blogs, and my books, and videos are written on the principle that any person embarking on something similar to what I do will gain more preparation than I first had, by reading them. I have fifteen years of USA nursing faculty background. Add to it fifteen more devoted to adult critical care. In Nepal, I started teaching critical care skills in 2011. I figure out what they need to know in a Nepali practice setting. Then I teach it in a culturally appropriate way so that the boots-on-the-ground people will use it. One theme of my work has been collective culture and how it manifests itself in anger. Because this was a problem I incorporated elements of "situational awareness" training from the beginning, in 2011.
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5 Responses to Why the MBBS docs are thinking twice about serving in earthquake zone May 29th

  1. Dr. Sandeep Raj Dahal says:

    nice story , m dr sandeep from kathmandu, i just got to know that republica had some artical about intrest of dr.for helping earthquake victims, coz i myself have no time to be updated with the papers. i can say from my heart that 95% of young doctors here is doing there best to help. no one can expect anything from government to help victims at this moments, if anything given by government will be highly appreciated.. we are making our own team and moving our steps to rural areas, we are best doing what we have and how much we can. we dont need to publisize ourselp to any paper to do this..

  2. Dr. Sandeep Raj Dahal says:

    at this moment we need to b united….

  3. Devraj kandel says:

    A very practical analysis

  4. Yagya says:

    you tried to explore some points…Besides your reasons, What I think the main reason for not applying for contract with MOHP is disparity among doctors…
    The doctors appointed from public service commission are permanent medical officer who has all power of government medical officer… but those who are on contract, they do not have power, noone at the office obeys him.. he has no social, professional security… For your information, there were 2000+ applicants for medical officer in public service commission last year where the vacancy was only 100+……… So, youngsters are enthusiastic to work under government with dignity not as a coward… Anyway thanks for sharing…

  5. Dr. Jung B. Thapa, MBBS (MU), DCP (London), MHCM (Pokhara). says:

    I am a doctor with forty years of service to the nation and the people, half in the Nepal Army, I have served in all the types of areas of Nepal, trans Himalayan, Mountain, Terai and the valley and am in active service every day even in this tragic earthquake. I have seen the excellent work done by doctors, nurses and other heath workers in these very difficult circumstances. All I request the government is please do not try to politicize the problem. Trying to send medical manpower with no supportive infrastructure is a waste of precious resources and defeats it’s objectives, Define the nature of the problem, build up the manpower, budget, equipment and have a reasonable working environment before you can do anything effective…. Dr. Jung B. Thapa,

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