Doc couple off to Nepal again to help with healthcare

On Friday, a Singaporean doctor couple will start on an arduous journey to a district in Nepal to take healthcare closer to the people living in the rural villages there.

Husband-and-wife team, Dr Kumaran Rasappan and Dr Gayathri Devi Nadarajan, both 31, will fly to the capital of Kathmandu, where they will stay for a few days before heading to the district of Gorkha, a four-hour drive away.

The remote and mountainous region is home to an estimated 270,000 people, and was among the districts hit hardest by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April.

They will lug with them medical equipment like blood pressure monitors and weighing scales, and medication for conditions such as upper respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea.

CREATING A LASTING IMPACT

This will be sort of a recce trip, to find out what are the needs of the people in the different areas, which will help us formulate our future plans... It shouldn't be short-lived. It is about leaving them something sustainable.

DR KUMARAN RASAPPAN, on the project to improve healthcare in remote villages

For villagers, getting to the nearest hospital often means a trek of a few hours.

The roads are at times inaccessible by vehicle, so the journey has to be made by foot.

While there is the option of seeking treatment at satellite medical centres, these are often ill-equipped and run by a healthcare assistant or volunteer with limited medical knowledge.

This will be the couple's second trip of this nature. The first was made in 2012 to the Khumbu region where Mount Everest is.

After that trip, the pair received requests from other parts of Nepal, asking them for help in improving healthcare centres.

While they will meet representatives from these areas in Kathmandu, the pair will not have time to visit all the centres.

"Instead, this will be sort of a recce trip, to find out what are the needs of the people in the different areas, which will help us formulate our future plans," said Dr Kumaran.

Nepal has a special place in his heart. As a 15-year-old boy, he went on his first overseas community involvement trip to Gorkha, where he helped paint the Saraswati school and set up a library.

In 2012, he also scaled Mount Everest.

For the upcoming two-week trip, the pair will focus their efforts on the villages of Kattel and Aam in Gorkha, north-west of Kathmandu, and the Saraswati school.

They will be joined by six undergraduates from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, and aided by $15,000 raised through the climbing community in Singapore.

The group will hold health screenings and teach the locals about proper hygiene practices, such as thorough handwashing, to prevent the spread of diseases.

The pair will also stock the hospital and medical centre there with medicine and train the healthcare assistant in skills, such as how to identify illnesses and to prescribe the right medication.

Another focus will be children and maternal healthcare, according to Dr Gayathri, an emergency medicine resident at SingHealth.

"When a delivery happens in a village home, there is no time to go to the nearest hospital. So, the ladies nearby will be called to help deliver the baby," she said.

She will teach the healthcare assistant and the villages' women to recognise a breech delivery or prolonged labour, and what they can do in these situations.

The Saraswati school, which was left damaged by the April earthquake, will also be provided with new furniture and computers.

Dr Kumaran, an orthopaedic surgical resident with the National Healthcare Group, believes that the biggest challenge is to see the effort through for months and years after they leave.

Both doctors faced difficulties in continuing their efforts from their 2012 trip due to work commitments.

They hope to get other doctors involved. They also hope the medical students from Nanyang Technological University will act as a bridge for them.

They will introduce the students to contacts on the ground, such as the chief medical officer at Kathmandu Hospital, the headmaster of the Saraswati school and representatives from the Gorkha hospital and villages.

"We hope they will get inspired and perhaps make this is a yearly or twice-yearly project, so that we always have people going in," said Dr Kumaran.

Mr Vivegan Visvalingam, 22, one of the students going on the trip, said: "We want to establish long-lasting relationships and connections with the people in Gorkha and help them in any way we can."

Mr Melvin Lim, 20, another member of the group, said: "We hope to come up with plans which are sustainable, so that we can help the people help themselves."

Dr Kumaran agreed: "It shouldn't be short-lived. It is about leaving them something sustainable."


• Anyone interested in being involved can contact Dr Kumaran at kumaran.rasappan@gmail.com.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Doc couple off to Nepal again to help with healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe