By Aasha Bhatta
I was twenty-two, a year out of nursing school, when a woman named Dhana came in the private hospital, barely alive. We rushed to donate blood and resuscitate her. Dhana had delivered a child at home, but the placenta had remained inside. Fearing it would slip back inside, a piece of wood was tied to her umbilical cord. After excess bleeding, Dhana had walked for a day, then took an ambulance to reach us.
The hospital wasn’t the problem, it was the access to the hospital and the time it took for her to get there, that exacerbated a preventable condition.
Dhana’s story is common in Nepal, where one in 400 women die during childbirth.
No one should die of preventable conditions.
I had the skills to intervene at Dhana’s doorstep. I left my job knowing that I could be more useful as a Community Healthcare Nurse.
Now, my day starts at 5 AM with a torch light, a hike through steep hills, gushing monsoon rivers and often jungles that house brown bears– all this while carrying a ultrasound machine to detect a complicated pregnancy.
Sharing a medical perspective on health is one step, counseling communities to opt out of traditional practices is another.
Many women are keen to exercise their sexual and reproductive choices, but tools have to be available. For example, women from the community often have to walk a day to access contraceptives.
I worked with local politicians to ensure contraceptives are available in the nearest health posts.
At first, I was mistaken as a kid. I was not taken seriously. But I knew the communities inside out and how my voice could be a tool for change. I persisted.
With our team, I worked to ensure that there are always female staff at birthing centers, so that pregnant women don’t turn away seeing only male clinicians. I feel most proud of providing timely care, and making a referral to a facility at a moment when the decision can be life-saving.
Together, we increased institutional birth rate from 76% to 96% over two years.
I have found my calling. But it will take all of us, from one on one prenatal counseling, to changing policies, and getting funding, so our Community Health team is professionally trained, paid, and receives the mentorship we need.