9-15 January 2015 #740

Why so many deaths?

Without documented causes of death, there is a lot of speculation to identify the reasons for the high rates of death among Nepali migrant workers
Dhanvantari by Buddha Basnyat, MD

An estimated 1,500 Nepalis leave Tribhuvan International Airport every day to work in the Gulf. Every day three to four of the migrant workers make the trip back home in a coffin. In the last three years, 400 Nepalis have died in Qatar alone. And yet there has been no initiative to investigate the causes of deaths of the migrant workers who strongly contribute to the country’s economy. Remittance forms nearly a quarter of the country’s GDP.

A startling aspect of the high number of deaths among the young men aged 20-40 years is that they usually do not suffer from diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease prior to departing. All migrant workers are mandated by the respective countries of employment to have a medical screening performed by a physician to screen for inadmissible conditions. Even if the medical screenings are spurious, the death date is exceptionally high for this young population with no comorbidities.

Hence, many questions arise for which we have inadequate answers.

Are the death rates of migrant workers from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines as high as the migrant workers from Nepal? Why are autopsies not performed in host countries to find the cause of death? Does the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Nepal and the host nations not have a clause on autopsies? If not, are serious efforts being made to amend the MOU?

Without documented causes of death, there is a lot of speculation to identify the reasons for the high rates of death among Nepali migrant workers.

Dehydration may be an important but overlooked cause of death because many of the migrant workers come from the mid-hill regions of Nepal and are put straight to work without any time to acclimate to the desert heat. Furthermore, the importance of hydration is rarely emphasised. In addition, many migrant workers might consume large amounts of alcohol and drinking in excess can lead to dehydration and possibly life-threatening conditions.

Road traffic death may be another cause due to lack of knowledge about the traffic rules or lack there of. Countries that do not practice strict traffic rules can have many deaths as a result of accidents especially where motor vehicles travel much faster than in Nepal.

Another cause of death can be mental stress and trauma experienced by majority of migrant workers due to overexertion, overworking and lack of communication due to language barriers. It may not be astonishing to discover that many migrant workers commit suicide or become victims of homicide. Finally, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis E and typhoid may be other possible causes of death.

Authorities need to take the initiative to form a panel of health and legal professionals and work in conjunction with host countries to determine the probable causes of deaths of many migrant Nepali workers and take preventive measures to avoid more deaths in the future.

It is the least the country can do for those who have contributed so much.  

Read also:

Blood, sweat and tears, Damakant Jayshi

Migrant workers stranded, Naresh Newar

Sudden death, Pete Pattisson

Workers in exile, Clare Hennig