January 152018Alinea’s Jamila Seibel Recounts Fulfilling Medical Mission Trip to Nepal
Jamila Seibel, PharmD, Consultant
In October 2017, I was invited to participate in a trip of a lifetime: a medical mission to Dharapani, a rural village located in the Manang Valley of Nepal. Filled with eagerness, excitement, and a healthy bit of anxiety, I flew ten thousand miles across the globe to Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, joining a group of 11 American volunteers and 15 Nepali volunteers to begin our journey. Although breathtakingly beautiful, the Manang Valley, which lies close to the Nepal-Tibet border in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, is one of the most remote and inaccessible valleys in Nepal. After meeting with local supply vendors to count, pack and organize pharmaceutical and medical supplies, our trek from Kathmandu to Dharapani consisted of a ten-hour bus ride, followed by five hours in jeeps, as we began the Manang Road portion of the trip, a mountain roadway, considered far too dangerous to pass by bus. Healthcare in the Manang Valley is limited for this reason. Most Nepali families who live in the mountain region do not have vehicles for transportation and a journey on foot to the closest city can take anywhere from 3-6 days, depending on the region.
Once in Dharapani, our team set up the health camp in a village primary school that served as our medical facility in the days ahead. We transitioned classrooms into exam rooms, an auditorium into a dental clinic, an administrative office into a pharmacy. The medical team was equipped with basic medical supplies: glucometers, stethoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, and speculums; the dental team had equipment for tooth extractions, fluoride treatments, and oral hygiene education. There were no CTs, MRIs, labs or X-ray equipment for miles! Patients trekked from villages near and far, some traveling for two days for the opportunity to meet with a doctor. Many patients sought treatment for infections, pain, and GI and respiratory conditions. We even provided glasses to over 20 patients, some of which had been having trouble seeing for many years. As a pharmacist, we worked with a limited formulary of drugs, primarily consisting of antibiotics, pain relievers, vitamins, anti-allergy, respiratory, and GI agents. Because the pharmacy was the last stop for all patients, our days extended into nights, working by flashlight when necessary, as our facility had no electricity.
Over the course of several days, our healthcare team provided medical and dental services to over 400 adults and children of the Manang Valley. Our Nepali patients were gracious hosts and overwhelmingly appreciative of the care they received. While the trip was challenging, and often exhausting, the sense of fulfillment and reward I gained through this experience was immeasurable. I spoke with a fellow volunteer who said it best: when volunteering for a medical mission trip, you always hope to make a difference in the life of just one person; the unexpected part is when you realize that the life most changed is your own. Namaste!