I spot a red blotted stain on one and can’t help but feel a little squeamish knowing that these gloves will be used in the operating room again, and again, and again.
This is Gorkha Town Hospital in Nepal, a government-funded hospital for the past year. In other words, this is a pretty good hospital.
The acting medical officer, Dr Narad Thapaliya, takes me on a tour of the site, and leads me into an open-doored brick building with a large white sign reading “Emergency Ward” in red. An elderly woman with tuberculosis lays dishevelled on an old metal bed in a dark corner of the room. Uneven slabs of rock, probably found on the street are placed under the legs of the bed to keep it stable and even.
“We don’t have a spare room for her at the moment,” says Dr Narad.
In the same room are around 10 other patients varying in age and illness. Dr Narad points to where a young boy lies; his mother sits by him wiping a cloth over her son’s forehead.
“He has pneumonia,” says the doctor.
The doctor looks tired. He is the only operating doctor at the hospital, and this is yet another 11-hour-day shift for him.
My reason for wanting to visit a hospital in the province of Gorkha was to learn more about the effects of indoor air pollution (IAP). When low-quality solid fuel is used in poorly ventilated kitchens, IAP is the result. It’s a very common issue in many developing countries including Nepal, where people rely on burning firewood to cook their food.
In the UK, we don’t have to think twice about children developing Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) or women who cook being four times more likely to suffer from chronic bronchitis and cataracts. I couldn’t help but feel angry at the fact that so many people living in poverty had illnesses caused by something as normal as preparing food.
I’ve been travelling around with the charity Practical Action whose work includes installing smoke hoods which reduce the level of IAP in the home.
I quickly learned that many patients were elderly women suffering from smoke-related illnesses such as severe asthma and acute bronchitis.
It’s very difficult to convince patients that smoke caused by cooking using traditional stoves is the cause of their illness; for many it’s the only way they know. Installing the safer option of a smoke hood – which costs 6,000 Nepalese rupees (around £35) – is simply not affordable for some.
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