New alliance at center of Nepal-India earthquake response

Written by N.A. A., a Senior Health Correspondent This post was originally published on Radio Atlantic. When earthquakes and tsunamis strike, the world reacts with miracles. Dozens of planes fly in to deliver aid…

New alliance at center of Nepal-India earthquake response

Written by N.A. A., a Senior Health Correspondent

This post was originally published on Radio Atlantic.

When earthquakes and tsunamis strike, the world reacts with miracles. Dozens of planes fly in to deliver aid to stricken areas, friends send money, and comforting words appear on television and in newspapers.

But disasters such as the earthquake that claimed nearly 3,000 lives in Nepal earlier this year also put world health officials in the uncomfortable position of having to reckon with one of the perennial nightmares that define the Third World: the worst disease outbreak in a generation. After the earthquake struck, three feet of snow fell, snarling recovery efforts in the Himalayan region and blocking the movement of needed supplies and medical teams. In response, officials in Nepal’s health system and the government of India began to form a coalition — and the first formal agreement of its kind in the world — in order to coordinate efforts on both sides of the border.

The deal had been in the works for years, but the catastrophe changed the timing. Months after the earthquake, officials in Nepal agreed to give India control over humanitarian and security operations in the area, giving the country greater control over what needed to be done and, potentially, providing greater protection against disease outbreaks and other disasters. The government in Nepal arranged for helicopters to make emergency drops of food and supplies to isolated areas where the earthquake had caused severe damage. India deployed troops to oversee vaccination campaigns and expanded efforts to reinforce destroyed infrastructure.

“On the ground, things started changing very quickly,” Rakesh Rajpal, director of the National Emergency Operations Center for Nepal, told me. “You can see the difference in the last three months: You can see how easy [disaster response] has been.”

At the center of the agreement is a new Nepal-India Joint Medical and Disease Control Center, which is providing technical and operational support, including public health programs to prevent epidemics and people in the region. Although experts admit it’s not clear how successful their joint efforts will be, one thing seems certain: No country — least of all the world’s least developed nations — can afford to wait for global powers to intervene. Even if an international effort did arrive, only a fraction of the population would be able to benefit. Of course, international health officials worry about overrunning these less developed countries with security forces.

“The health implications of failure on the part of one or more governments are very high,” Nadda Narayan Jha, the chief executive of the World Health Organization’s Pacific region, told me. “We recognize that your lives depend on it.”

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