Saturday, November 15, 2008

Something to look forward to...

Nepal to face major power shortage this winter KATMANDU, Nepal: Nepalese could face as much as 14 hours of daily power cuts this winter because of damage to lines that transmit power imported from India and low water levels in reservoirs that drive hydroelectric plants, an official said Friday. Sher Singh Bhat of the state-run Nepal Electricity Authority said the utility would be forced to increase power blackouts to consumers this winter. Power outages currently stretch to about five hours a day in Nepal. Floods in Nepal's southeast have swept away transmission lines used to import electricity from neighboring India and cannot be repaired by winter, Bhat said. The level of water in reservoirs used to store runoff during the monsoon is much lower than in previous years, which will reduce power from hydroelectric plants. The state-run utility company is producing only about half the necessary electricity to satisfy demand at present. Some electricity is imported from India but not enough to meet the shortage.A decade-long communist insurgency also hampered development work, including the building of new power plants. Although the rebels joined a peace process in 2006 and gave up their armed revolt, political instability has continued.

Friday, November 14, 2008


  • Namaste from Anandaban! The cold is here.
  • It looks like I may be able to get my laptop back soon. The repairshop in KTM has now said it may/possibly/at the very least take a month "or more" to get in a part at a cost of over 130USD. I found out a TLM rep from the UK is coming this week. He has mercifully agreed to place the tiny part in his luggage. Cost of part: 15USD. The laptop problems began in July. It is now mid-november. The anticipation is almost too much.
  • Visitors to Anandaban have been phenomenal. There is a constant influx through the guesthouse next door. This past year has seen: Japanese, Indian, Australian, Sri Lankan, Dutch, Brits, Aussies, New Zealanders, Scots, Irish/Northern Irish, Italian, Canadian, American and then some others with mixed up origins from the multiple countries where they've lived. Some are missionaries/pastors, scientists, clinicians, tons of students, accountants and administrators, counselors, prostheticists, biologists, physios, nurses, surgeons, anthropologists, trekkers and fundraisers. Meals there can be unexpected meetings with people from fields and places you never imagined.
  • This is a pic of Anandaban's staff taken in August (with a few extra visitors at the time of course). We have two expat staff right now: me and Elisa the Australian occupational therapist (middle of the back row somehow looking shorter than she actually is). The staff are great coworkers.
  • This past week, a plastic surgery team composed of a hand specialist, anesthicist and surgical nurse flew in from the UK for a surgical camp at Anandaban. Surgeons from Lalgadh and Biratnagar came to watch and learn. Some patients were prescheduled and another busload arrived Wednesday night (~23 specialty surgeries total). They managed to fit them all in. All but one were leprosy patients. Yesterday, I went to the operation theatre and observed while Dr. Indra and the visiting surgeon performed a tendon transfer on a 14 yr old boy's leprosy-affected hand. It was very, very cool. A tendon in the palm was divided into four and then woven around the bases of other muscles. It will allow him to regain some useful motility in his clawed hand. I have great pics and some video. The boy was awake for most of the surgery (local anesthetic/block). He will need to stay at Anandaban for a couple months to undergo post-surgical physiotherapy and learn how to use his newly "rewired" hand.
  • Just to highlight how things go here in Nepal: The surgical team arrived on Sunday with only their carry ons and the clothes they wore. No luggage. No specialty surgical tools. Nearly everyday that meant one of the team had to travel an hour or so to the airport to see if they could recognize their bags in either the morning or afternoon flight from Delhi. Monday: "Sorry, your luggage must have been left in Delhi." Tuesday: "Sorry, your luggage never left London. It is still there." Wednesday: "Sorry, your luggage is now in Phoenix, Arizona, USA." Friday night it arrived at Anandaban after the last surgery was performed. The team left Anandaban Saturday morning. Such is life here. High strung people will not survive.
  • In clinic this week, a 12yr old girl came in with leprosy. She came from outside KTM, but we found out that practically all other members of her family have or have had leprosy. She was beautiful and very brave during her slit skin smears. That is a test where a scalpel blade makes a small cut to scrape skin cells from the earlobes, elbow and knee to run a test for leprosy. Kids still get leprosy.
  • I attended part of a 3 day national nepal science and technology conference this week. The maoist prime minister and the finance ministeer spoke on different days. There were numerous talks by mostly Nepalese students on their projects ranging from Biotech, Bioinformatics, Korean methods for country development, what diseases are available on products from the local vegetable and dairy markerts to what local drugs are used by Nepalese to treat their sick cows. It was an interesting chance to meet people.
  • The lab has been undergoing painting inside and out for the last two weeks. We've also been using the opportunity to try to reorganize and clean out pieces of equipment that are old and irreparable (many things are from the late 70's and 80's and are too outdated for today's science or to get replacement parts). A local group is taking the stuff so that Nepalese biotech engineering students can have a chance to work and learn on medical lab equipment. If they are able to fix some of them, we can have them back for reasonable repair costs.
  • 2 Graduate students in our lab at anandaban are finishing up their thesis for graduation from Tribhuvan University. It's alot of work. Imagine correcting multiple drafts of ~300 pages of science writing.
  • In December, I will leave on the 4th to go to Delhi for a TLM south asia science meeting and then I will fly to Cebu in the Philippines for an IDEAL meeting (Initiative for Diagnostic and Epidemiological Assays for Leprosy; Hopefully, I will also be able to spend some time at the TLM hospital there in Cebu where they also perform leprosy research.
  • Elisa has gone trekking outside Pokhara with an Australian "Trek for Treatment" group that arrived last week. Trekking = hiking/camping for days in the mountains. These groups really help to raise funds for TLM sites around the globe that practically minister to those afflicted with leprosy.
  • Please pray for us. The season is very busy, but that also means that there are many opportunities.

No more private school, Nepal's Maoist government declares

The former rebels plan to put all children in public schools by 2010, saying it will even the playing field. By Bikash Sangraula Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor from the November 15, 2008 edition Kathmandu, Nepal - The massive election win last April by Nepal's former rebel Maoists put them in the position to set the government agenda, and bring about drastic changes they promised during their campaign. But their initial proposals on education – to end private investment in schools and distribute academic certificates to Maoist fighters – have left many Nepalese worried. They're concerned that their new government will take the country in too radical a direction that favors its former fighters and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology. "Recent statements by Maoist leaders are indicative of their political immaturity," says Krishna Khanal, a political scientist at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. "They have made strange announcements to please their cadres and fighters." The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) wields considerable legislative power to advance its policies. The group, which fought a 10-year insurgency from 1996 demanding a new constitution and an end to monarchy, is the largest party in Nepal's 601-member special assembly. With 220 seats, it has twice the representation of the second biggest party, the centrist Nepali Congress. The government also has few moderates who might push back against a radical agenda. The Maoists' biggest alliance partner is the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), third largest in the assembly, which also has radical roots and a history of armed violence. An 'unequal education system' The controversial announcement came Nov. 6, when Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai declared the government would end private investment in education by 2010. Private investors, he added, should limit themselves to investing in universities. The Maoists have long opposed private investment in primary and secondary schooling, arguing that it produces an unequal workforce – those coming from private schools have an edge over their peers from public schools, they claim. "We have fought against this unequal education system for years now," said Himal Sharma, general secretary of All Nepal Free Students' Union (Revolutionary), the Maoist party's student's wing. "We are pushing for a declaration next year of free education in public schools till class 8. And a year after that, we want the provision expanded for up to class 12. Ideally, we would want an end to private investment in schools by then," he said. But the announcement has experts worried that the transition will undermine youths' quality of education. According to the Ministry of Education, private schools account for nearly one-third of the country's 41,000 schools. "The plan is extremely ambitious and highly unlikely to succeed," says Mani Wagle, principal and proprietor of Miniland School in Kathmandu that runs classes from nursery to 12. "Two years aren't enough time for the government to provide an alternative arrangement for millions of school-going children and thousands of teachers in private schools." Nepal's government-run schools tend to have poor infrastructure. Newspapers here regularly run stories of government schools in the remote hilly areas where classes are conducted outside due to insufficient number of classrooms. (Earlier this year, many schools went for months without books but yet were still mandated to run.) The passing rate of public school students is poor. According to figures from the Ministry of Education, 82 percent of private school students who take the School Leaving Certificate exam pass the test, compared with 36 percent of public school students. People like Professor Khanal, of the Tribhuvan University, say that privately-run schools have provided the quality education that public schools have not. Suprabhat Bhandari, president of Nepal Guardian's Association, calls the announcement ridiculous. "Is the state intending to produce a mediocre manpower in the name of equality? And how will the state ensure that Nepalese children who do their schooling outside Nepal are not more competent than those who study in the public schools here?" Fighting for a degree Mr. Battarai further announced that the government is working to give academic certificates to Maoist fighters who couldn't attend schools during the war. "Our friends who could not continue their education due to involvement in the armed conflict but have the necessary skills and knowledge should receive due academic recognition," he said. Khanal, calling the idea unacceptable, likened it to the thinking during China's Cultural Revolution, when a degree holder in agricultural science was valued less than a farmer who hadn't received formal education. "These are the same revolutionary leaders who said Nepal's formal education is useless, and asked youths to leave schools and join the war. Why the need for certificates now?" he says

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Christians face attacks in India - Violence flares as Hindu militants accuse missionaries of stealing followers

Apparently their election year is having severe repercussions against Christians in India (southern neigbor of Nepal). There are many articles online. Some of them say that the refugees are being forced out of camps with no where to go. India asked to investigate Hindu massacre of Christians. India's Human Rights Commission has been urged to investigate the wave of violence which killed at least 100 Christians and forced another 100,000 to flee their homes.