Children in rural Sindhupalchok deprived of government-run vaccination programmesHealth officials rarely reach the villages to administer the vaccines putting the lives of children at risk.
Whenever the sun is out, Dolma Sherpa gives her daughter, Lhakpa Dolma, an oil massage on the porch of their house. The four-year-old child is physically not as strong as someone her age should be, and Dolma regularly oils her body to make her muscles stronger and her body warm. When asked about her daughter’s health, the 30-year-old mother said, “She is small for her age. She has not been vaccinated yet and is constantly falling sick.”
Ever since Dolma lost her four-year-old son to pneumonia for lack of treatment seven years ago, she’s always worried about the health of her children. Aside from Lhakpa Dolma, she has two daughters—three-year-old Dawa Sangamo and 10-year-old Nima Yangzi. “None of my three children have been vaccinated, and I’m afraid they might catch diseases and I’ll lose them for a lack of timely treatment,” she says.
The family are residents of Dipu, a remote village in Jugal Rural Municipality in Sindhupalchok. Given the remoteness of the settlement, there are no permanent health posts in the area and health officials rarely make their visits. “It takes two days to reach the nearest health post in Pagarpur. It was impossible for me to carry my newborn on such an arduous journey just for vaccination,” said Dolma.
It takes two to three days from Dipu to reach the health post in Gumbathan, where the government runs its vaccination programme. “Since the health posts are far, our children grow without vaccination just like us,” said Wangdi Sherpa, another local, holding her five-year-old son Pemba Jangbu. “To vaccinate our children we must walk for two-three days to reach a medical facility.”
According to Wangdi, it takes about a day to cross the jungle between Dipu and Tega. Then another day of perilous walk takes them to Tembathan. “Then we have to cross the Lakyap cliff through the dense Nimadoma forest,” said Wangdi. Finally, on the third day, they reach the health post in Gumbathan. “By the time we reach the health post, both the mother and the child gets sick,” said Wangdi, “Also the whole trail is full of wild animals. So no one dares take such risks. We rely on herbs and shamans if our children get sick rather then exposing ourselves to threats in the jungle.”
Dolma and Wangdi’s plight are just two cases in point in the remote Sindhupalchok village where almost every household with children have been deprived of vaccination and medical care owing to a lack of road connectivity. The geographical location and the remoteness of the rural municipality have discouraged health officials to take trips. More than 30 children are living with the risk of contracting diseases that comes for a lack of vaccination.
The government’s failure to construct road access, electricity, schools and medical facilities in the region has forced the residents of Dipu and Tega to live in harsh conditions while dealing with the loss of their loved ones.
According to a senior public health officer, Durga Datta Chapagain, the government provides 12 different vaccines to be administered to children during the first 15 months of their birth. These vaccines are provided free of cost. “Earlier, there was a vaccination centre in the then-Village Development Committee,” said Chapagain, “But after the local levels were formed, the onus lies on the local governments to conduct timely vaccination programmes and to build health posts in remote areas.”
However, going by the testimonies of the locals, the local government representatives have turned a blind eye towards the health of the children of the rural municipality.
Meanwhile, Jugal Rural Municipality chairman Hog Narayan Shrestha claimed that they have been deploying three health workers in all seven wards of the rural municipality for the vaccination programmes. “The situation of the local children not getting vaccinations might have occurred due to a lack of information,” said Shrestha, adding that the rural municipality has established vaccination centres at Gumbathan, Pagarpu while another one in Tembathan is under construction.
Last year, provincial lawmaker Suresh Nepal and Jugal Rural Municipality Chairman Shrestha, who had reached Temmbathan, had committed to building roads and establishing health posts and schools. However, their commitments have remained just that with no progress made to materialise them.