Twenty-four-year old Purna Rai from Khotang in eastern Nepal was admitted to Patan Hospital with bacterial meningitis. After four days he recovered completely and both he and his wife, who was nursing him, were overjoyed.
Once the diagnosis was made by performing a spinal tap (which allows for the patient's cerebrospinal fluid to be properly examined), the treatment was straightforward. A powerful, intravenous antibiotic was prescribed. Although meningitis is life-threatening, the patient had a prompt, and uneventful recovery with the raging fever and throbbing headache disappearing in quick time.
More than the medical aspect, the case was fascinating because of how Purna made it to Patan Hospital.
Purna had fallen ill in Khotang for a day with headache, high fever and bouts of vomiting. His condition deteriorated when he became delirious and then lost consciousness. His family knew that the situation was life-threatening and called up their closest relative in Kathmandu. The relative wasted no time in arranging for a helicopter to fly to Khotang which brought Purna promptly to a hospital in Kathmandu.
Many patients from the hills of Nepal suffer from meningitis and other potentially curable but dangerous illnesses everyday. But the outcome is not as positive as in the case of this patient. In Purna's case the whole family understood the seriousness of the situation and worked effectively to rescue the young man.
In addition, the family had enough financial resources and contacts to arrange for a rescue helicopter. In the context of Nepal, the sequence of events and how well they were orchestrated are miraculous. However, it was still a tremendous financial burden for the family which is still trying to pay off the loan.
In Nepal, a catastrophic illness like this can push even relatively wealthy people to grinding poverty. Unless this problem is dealt with effectively by strengthening primary healthcare in places like Khotang and providing universal healthcare, severe illnesses which lead to immense financial problems will continue unabated.
It is unfortunate that India (whose example we seem to follow in all matters) has not taken the lead in health issues for the masses in South Asia. Dr K Srinath Reddy of India said that due to high cost of healthcare, 40 million Indians are pushed into poverty each year. There is an abundance of expensive, state-of- the- art medical institutions in the country, but very few Indians have access. Perhaps with political will, Nepal can take the lead in healthcare.