Yarchagumba pickers’ request for health facilities in Bajhang highlands goes unheededPickers have been dying to treatable diseases like flu, diarrhea and altitude sickness for lack of medical attention.
It’s Yarchagumba (Cordyceps synensis) picking season in the mountains of Nepal.
Thousands of foragers of the highly priced caterpillar fungus are now dwelling in the highlands of several mountain districts to make some money. But the people, living in pitiable conditions in flimsy huts pitched at high altitude slopes, are at high risk of succumbing to even basic illnesses, such as diarrhea, common cold, altitude sickness—since there are no medical facilities available closeby.
Sirjana Bohara, her parents and seven-year-old brother of Saipal in Bajhang district, are now all busy in the highlands of Raidhungi in search of Yarchagumba. They made the journey to Raidhungi in May. Srijana and her brother have fallen ill several times during their journey into the highlands. She said, “I’ve suffered from conjunctivitis several times since May and so has my brother.”
According to Sirjana, scores of people living in the area have been suffering from eye infection. “Many people are also suffering from diarrhoea, fever, flu and altitude sickness,” she added.
But because of a lack of health posts, health workers and medicines, people have been resorting to using herbal treatment in case of illness. “It takes about three to four days to reach the nearest village. If someone falls ill, then there is no alternative but to seek herbal treatment. There is a slim chance of surviving a serious illness in the highlands,” said Bohara.
Many Yarcha collectors die for the want of medical treatment in the highlands each year. Eight pickers lost their life in Raidhungi area last year while 12 people died two years back.
The revenue collected from yarcha collectors by the local unit and other authorities is mostly used in village development projects, according to Khadak Bohora, another yarcha picker from Saipal.
“The local unit charged Rs 500 per person last year as entry fee into the area to collect Yarcha. The tax was increased to Rs 1,000 this year,” said Janak Sarki of Talkot. “Despite paying taxes, the local units do not provide us with any facilities. All we are asking for is some sort of medical assistance. Many lives would be saved if there was a health worker nearby, and not days away.”
Around 40,000 people from Bajhang and other districts seek permission to collect the precious fungus and reach the highlands of Bajhang every year.
The situation of yarcha collectors in Rukum is also the same. Entry of foragers into Buku, the highlands in the district, will open from Friday. A huge number of people have already reached the area with in anticipation of making a fortune by collecting the expensive herb. However, seven people had to return to their respective villages even before the official picking was announced after they fell ill. They were brought to Maikot Health Post on bamboo baskets; some are still receiving treatment there.
“Seven persons have been brought to the health post so far. I heard many others are also suffering from various illnesses in the highlands,” said Samir Giri, the in-charge of Maikot Health Post. According to him, people generally suffer from altitude sickness, cold and viral fever in the high altitude areas.
A management committee is formed each year to make necessary arrangements for yarcha collectors. However, the management committee is yet to take constructive measures to set up health facilities for the pickers.
“It has been more than 30 years since yarcha collection started in the area but medical care for the pickers is yet to be taken seriously,” said Laxmi Prasad Pun Magar, the former chairman of the management committee. According to him, providing medical assistance to yarcha pickers hasn’t been prioritised this season as well.