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Dr. Richard Parkin ‘Mountain Medicine of Nepal’

Richard Parkin was a GP in Skelton for 30 years. During a 3 month sabbatical, he became involved in Operation Raleigh. He delivered an illuminating talk on his experiences with many beautiful photographs of the people and the Himalayas.

On an early visit, Richard met Doug Scott, the mountaineer who was the first Englishman to successfully climb Everest. Scott wanted to repay the help and service the Sherpas had provided during his expeditions and set up Community Action Nepal. This charity aims to maintain the viability of local communities by providing help with schools and medical facilities. Richard has contributed to the establishment of very successful Health Posts. He continues to visit Nepal 2 or 3 times a year.

The capital, Kathmandu is a typical developing city: disorganised, polluted and noisy. Outside the city, the countryside is stunning with beautiful colour and religious artefacts. The nation has both Hindu and Buddhist citizens. Richard showed pictures of marigolds and gentians as well as of prayer walls and prayer wheels. The gentians can apparently be heard opening. At tops of mountain passes there are prayer flags with messages to various gods.

Old timber bridges which looked very dangerous are being steadily replaced with utilitarian concrete structures. A picture of a suspension bridge showed part of the side mesh had been stolen, leaving a gap with a drop to certain death. All infrastructure in the area is vulnerable, not least to the forces of nature. Roads and bridges are often washed away. Attempts have been made to preserve trees, but landslips are often caused by poor practice.

Most farming is at subsistence level and carried out on terraces. Bananas, oranges, rice and maize are grown. Rodents are a problem and a photograph showed maize being stored on poles to minimise losses to rats. Herbs are also grown for medicinal purposes.

Health clinics deal with minor problems such as infections and blood pressure. Health camps are organised in more remote areas. These are typically in use for 3 days before moving on. Specialists attend patients from surrounding areas. The accommodation, operating theatre and pharmacy of the one we saw were all tented. Richard once saw 500 people in 3 days. Operations for cataracts and vasectomies were routine. Dealing with cataracts is hugely important. After the operation, patients’ sight is restored and they can work.

There is inevitable friction between western and eastern medicine. It is difficult for the doctor to get an accurate picture of a patient’s symptoms because of the need to translate everything. The western doctor has to come to terms with the lack of concern with privacy and confidentiality. Several consultations may take place around a table simultaneously. Fortunately, local nurses are very competent despite having received fairly limited training.

More recently built clinics are well constructed and have solar power, but they can be very remote. Richard once needed a day’s journey in a 4X4 followed by a hike of 6 days.

In reply to questions, Richard said that the population of about 30 million is mostly in the lowlands. He explained that attempts are made to bridge western and eastern approaches to medicine, but these are all local arrangements. There is no national scheme. The charity tries to employ local nurses because they are so effective in influencing patients’ behaviour.


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