Two earthquakes hit Nepal on 25 April and 12 May 2015, killing an estimated 8,500 people and injuring another 20,000.
After the first 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, MSF teams quickly arrived in the country and focused on reaching the people living in remote mountainous areas. The earthquake’s epicentre was in Gorkha district, 80 kilometres west of Kathmandu.
MSF ran a system of helicopter clinics to provide healthcare and hospital referrals for emergency cases. Regular clinics were conducted in villages spread across Gorkha, Dhading, Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha districts. Their focus, in accordance with the needs expressed by the communities, was children under the age of five, pregnant women and mental healthcare.
In Arughat, Gorkha district, MSF set up a 20-bed inflatable hospital with an operating theatre, and emergency, maternity and resuscitation rooms. This replaced the local healthcare centre that had been destroyed by the earthquake until the Ministry of Health was able to open a semi-permanent structure at the end of June.
MSF also set up a temporary tented clinic in Chhapchet, Dhading district, an area that was severely affected. Staff provided basic healthcare and carried out minor surgical interventions, for example on patients whose wounds had become infected.
MSF teams were already operational by the time the second earthquake struck on 12 May, and were able to start providing healthcare in the hours that followed.
With many remote villages completely flattened, and the monsoon season fast approaching, shelter distribution and sanitation work were the priorities. MSF transported around 6,000 family-sized tents into the mountains by both land and air, as well as almost 13,000 iron sheets and 3,000 reconstruction kits for the building of more permanent dwellings. By the time the monsoon arrived, almost 10,000 households in Dhading, Nuwakot, Dolakha, Gorkha, and elsewhere in the Budhy Gandaki valley had some form of shelter.
Between April and July, MSF conducted over 2,500 health consultations and provided psychological support to more than 7,000 people, mostly via helicopter. Staff also treated 240 patients with emergency needs and carried out over 1,200 physiotherapy sessions in the Kathmandu orthopaedic hospital. MSF distributed food, as well as shelter, cooking and hygiene items, to almost 15,000 households. Teams also set up a water supply network for 7,000 displaced people in Cheechipathi camp in Kathmandu, and sanitation systems in a number of other camps around the city.
Following this immediate emergency phase, MSF reduced its activities in July 2015, but continued working through two projects in Sangha and Charikot. In Sangha, MSF worked in the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre, a 50-bed facility situated east of Kathmandu. After the earthquake, a large number of patients needed surgery, particularly for injuries to their lower limbs. They were fitted with external fixation (a procedure to stabilise and join the ends of broken bones with a splint or cast), or put in traction. MSF provided extra capacity in general rehabilitation for post-operative patients with physiotherapy, dressings, medical follow-up and mental healthcare, and also constructed a new ward for general rehabilitation with capacity for 50 patients. All activities had been handed over to the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre by the end of the year.
Another MSF team worked with Ministry of Health staff in the emergency room, inpatient department and operating theatre at the primary healthcare centre in Charikot, a village in Dolakha district (the epicentre of the second earthquake), and also supported laboratory and X-ray services. All these activities had been handed over to a public–private partnership by the end of 2015.
Three colleagues lost in a helicopter crash
During a clinic on 2 June, three of our colleagues and their pilot lost their lives in a helicopter crash. Sandeep Mahat, Jessica Wilford and Sher Bahadur Karki (Raj), and their pilot, Subek Shrestha, were flying back to Kathmandu after delivering assistance to villages in Sindhupalchowk district when the accident occurred. It is with great sadness that we bid them farewell.