SAF mobile clinic treats hundreds in Nepali town

Word spread quickly in the quake-damaged town of Gokarna, near Kathmandu. Some arrived on foot, others on crutches for treatment at a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) mobile clinic in the compound of the 1,500-year-old Gokarna Mahadev Hindu temple.

Hundreds of people among the town's 20,000 residents have been waiting for medical treatment for injuries suffered during the quake or for illnesses such as diarrhoea. Until Wednesday, the nearest free medical care was 30 minutes away.

The SAF clinic opened on Thursday, treating more than a hundred patients on its first day. By yesterday, it was almost 300.

The 15-member team, consisting of five doctors and 10 medics, is working out of three tents.

Mr Lal Bahadur Bayarkoti, 32, made his way on crutches to the clinic to get treatment for an old ankle injury that worsened when he fell during the quake.

"I was at home when the earthquake happened, and I couldn't run because of my foot," said Mr Bayarkoti, who is unemployed. "I fell down and my leg became more painful."

Major (Dr) Kok Wai Leong, 31, prescribed painkillers while a medic helped to clean and dress the injury.

Mr Tirtha Lal Shrestha, a 38-year-old labourer, lost his balance at a construction site during the quake, fell backwards and injured his wrist. Major (Dr) Zhang Junren, 31, applied a plaster cast around his right forearm and sent the man home to rest.

"We've been told that we are the first foreign medical team down here, and therefore we feel that we can contribute most significantly in this area," said Lieutenant-Colonel (Dr) Adrian Tan, head of the SAF medical team in Nepal.

The doctors also saw a number of cases of diarrhoea and acute asthma. The team has resuscitation equipment and can evacuate anyone who is severely injured.

The Singapore medical team has been a comforting presence for many Nepalese who did not know where to turn for help with minor injuries because the local clinic has been overwhelmed, said Dr Ritu Gartoulla, who teaches public health at the Tribhuvan University's Institute of Medicine and whose own house was badly damaged in the quake. While the university's training hospital is also offering free medical help, it is 30 minutes away from Gokarna.

"I explained to many of my neighbours and friends that this is a good opportunity to get medical help because these are experienced, knowledgeable doctors who have come from far away to help us," he said. "Word has certainly got around, and people are talking about the good things the team has done for them."

This article was first published on May 2, 2015.
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