Nepal Earthquake – Experiences & Observations Of A Foreign Physiotherapist

Published on: 2018/07/15

Dr. Philip Sheppard, A Canadian Physiotherapist & A global health professional


“Finally, a smile!” The rehab team and I celebrated for a moment while working with a 7-year-old Nepalese girl who had sustained a life-altering above knee amputation as a result of debris falling on her leg during the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal on April 25th, 2015.

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Nepal earthquake, physiotherapy, post-disaster physiotherapy, rehabilitation, amputation

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Nepal earthquake

On 25 April 2015, an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.8 stuck the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu. The earthquake was so strong that tremors were felt in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. 9,000 people were killed and more than 22,000 injured in this disaster. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal in over 80 years.

This earthquake also triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest, which killed 21 people and was recorded as the deadliest day on the mountain in history. 250 people went missing in Langtang valley as another avalanche struck as a result of the earthquake. The Nepal earthquake damaged temples, monuments and other historic sites in the country. The quake took place at the time of the day when most of the people were working outdoors, thus reducing the death toll.

Thousands of citizens were homeless as entire villages had been flattened out by the quake. There had been increased warnings from geophysicists about an impending earthquake in the region as it was vulnerable owing to its geology, urbanization, and architecture. Disasters like this become a huge impediment to nations who are already poor and politically paralyzed. The after effects of the quake are felt for years at a stretch as the country starts on the path to recovery and rebuilding. Nearly 3.5 million people became homeless as a result of this earthquake.

In the wake of any natural disaster, several relief teams rush to provide aid. Of this, doctors are most in demand. Doctors help treat patients who come in with serious injuries, but often the role of physiotherapists gets overlooked. At a time of such disasters, hospitals need mobility aids like wheelchairs, braces, and other equipments. After the quake, around 900 physiotherapists were in Nepal, volunteering in the affected areas and hospitals where the injured were being taken.

Post-disaster survival challenges

The chances of survival from disasters have greatly improved due to advances in medicine and emergency preparedness. As a result, more people survived, but with complex disabilities that are difficult to manage considering the available health infrastructure. Nepal already suffered from a poor infrastructure and the health situation post earthquake posed a huge challenge. The commonly seen injuries in the earthquake are fractures, tissue injuries, burns, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Given the medical advancement, many survive facing mild to severe handicap for life. Physiotherapists play a pivotal role in helping the patients understand their condition and provide knowledge to improve their condition.

Rehabilitation of the patients involves educating the patient and family about the injury or disability, ensuring proper documentation is in place and urging people to move about to reduce the negative effects of bed rest. Physiotherapists also help people with disabilities in re-integrating with the communities.

Read more – Nepal Earthquake – Experiences and observations of a Foreign Physiotherapist, written by Dr. Philip Sheppard