Locals of Maunabudhuk village in eastern Nepal have reaped the rewards of one man’s commitment to public health
When Megharaj Ban first joined Maunabudhuk Health Post (MHP) in Dhankuta in 1987, there were no road networks connecting this small village to district headquarters and health workers were faced with a chronic shortage of medicines. His own villagers were skeptical about how far he could improve the well-being of the community.
Twenty-five years on, Ban has single-handedly reformed the VDC’s health-scape. From convincing locals to adopt preventive care measures to upgrading facilities at MHP in spite of a lack of funding, the health-worker has become so popular that every time he gets posted outside Maunabudhuk, villagers request the district administration office to send him back.
On Monday, the 49-year-old, who is now a public health inspector at MHP, was presented the Nick Simons Award for his outstanding contribution to improving health services in his village and his unwavering commitment towards his people. For the past six years the Kathmandu-based NSI has honoured healthcare workers in rural Nepal who have overcome financial obstacles and lack of resources to help communities.
In November 2012, Ban helped establish a new birthing centre at MHP with four rooms where mothers and their babies receive 24-hour care. Built completely from local resources and knowhow, the centre tends to 65 per cent of all births in Maunabudhuk.
Next on Ban’s to-do list was a health laboratory. Again with no financial support from the government, he gathered money from villagers and built a well-equipped laboratory, which currently employs a lab assistant from the locality. Now, patients no longer have travel for hours by bus to district headquarters in Dhankuta or to the neighbouring district of Sunsari for basic services like blood tests, HIV tests, and DOTS treatment.
Ban also started a safe motherhood emergency fund in 2009 so that expectant mothers could take out interest-free loans to cover their medical bills. The fund, which is now worth Rs 80,000, can provide loans upto Rs 10,000 for three months and was collected entirely from villagers, politicians, and grassroots organisations.
Call it chance or a twist of fate, but a career in public health was the last thing on Megharaj’s mind after completing his SLC in 1985 even though he had trained as an health assistant and worked for 20 months in Ilam. The eldest of four siblings, Ban studied economics in high school and wanted to join the civil service. He had even passed his Lok Sewa exams, but at the last minute the post he had been assigned to was given to someone else. So Ban chose public health.
But his two decade long journey has not been without its challenges. During the height of the insurgency, Ban had to flee Dhankuta and seek refuge in Kathmandu. Most of his friends migrated abroad, but he felt he wasn’t cut out for it. After working for nine months in the state-run Vitamin A program in western Nepal, Ban was selected to undergo a six-month senior assistant health worker training in 2004, after which he was again brought back to Maunabudhuk.
“I am grateful that the hard work that the team has put into the health post over the years has finally been recognised,” says an elated Ban. “Now that people know about us, we will have to put in more effort to live up to their expectations.”
Nick Simons Institute, BUDDHA BASNYAT
Nepal’s Nightingale, BHRIKUTI RAI