Kathmandu hospitals struggling after Nepal earthquake

Worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years leaves hospitals in Kathmandu valley overwhelmed by flood of injured people

Major hospitals in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley are being stretched to the limit by a powerful earthquake that killed close to 2,000 people in the Himalayan nation Saturday. 

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck 80-kilometers (50 miles) from Kathmandu, decimating parts of the capital, reportedly triggering landslides in the western Gorkha district, causing an avalanche on Mount Everest and loss of life throughout the country.

At least 1,800 people have died according to figures the home ministry released Sunday morning, while at least 4,000 have been injured according to the police. 

The densely-populated Kathmandu valley has been the region worst-hit by the earthquake with more than 600 people killed. 

According to Dipendra Pandey, a resident orthopedic doctor at Bir Hospital’s Trauma Centre, services are unable to cope with the demands being made on them.

“We were not prepared,” he said, adding, “We are running only one operation theatre continuously. We need to be running at least five. There are many patients that need to be operated on.”

The hospital is located just a few hundred metres from Dharahara, a 62-meter tall tower that was turned to rubble, with what authorities believe was approximately 170 people inside.

Apart from the strain on medical facilities, emergency services are hampered by a lack of supplies.

“Now we are having a scarcity of medicine. There are some NGOs that have promised to bring medicine and say that they are on their way,” Pandey said.

A blood drive is also underway to supplement current supplies that are said to be running dangerously low.

Raghav Pokharel, a volunteer canvassing for blood donations at the capital’s Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, said that a lack of blood will soon endanger lives.

“We are short of a lot of blood. We have no quantity of B+, and A+ and O+ are running low,” he said. 

Despite the lack of blood, authorities are ensuring that standards are enforced.

“The donation criteria is very strict, because the number of transmissible diseases in Nepal is high,” said Numaya Gurung, a nurse at the university hospital’s blood bank.

“This excludes many people, but it is necessary because so many diseases come through blood,” said Gurung. 

The nature of the disaster is likewise providing unique logistical challenges for the medical system.

Hospitals already heaving under the strain on services are being forced to provide shelter to those that have already been discharged due to the relatively minor nature of their injuries, but have no home to return to.

“The patients we have discharged are not going home as many of their houses have collapsed. We cannot force them out,” said Pandey.

Many of those that escaped injury in the earthquake will once again be sleeping in Ratna Park, one of the city’s largest open spaces, which has been converted into a tent city.

Sonu Kumar, a 16-year-old from a central Kathmandu neighbourhood, said he and his family are not willing to take the risk of returning to their home, which sustained minor damage.

“We’ll be staying here again tonight,” he said, adding, “Why take the chance, it’s too risky.”

A large 6.7-magnitude aftershock rocked Kathmandu just before 1 p.m. local time (0815 GMT) Sunday, causing panic throughout the city, which is already reeling from Saturday’s disaster.