Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eclipse in Nepal



This morning was the 96% eclipse of the sun here in Nepal (~6:42AM). Elisa and I tried to get good pictures of this “once in a lifetime event”; however, monsoon clouds protected us! Nevertheless, as you can see, the valley below Anandaban is beautifully green as it should be this time of year with rice fields.  The pics are during, after peak and then later as it was brighter. The last pic shows a small dam set up in the valley. Although the monsoon rains have come and the fields are green with rice plants, you can easily see that the small reservoir only has a minor stream compared to what it is designed to catch. Monsoon is definitely less this year and it will be reflected in the crop yield.

The leprosy clinic at Patan in KTM was the quietest I have ever seen. Schools and govt offices were closed. There are strong cultural traditions here regarding eclipses (  We also heard that there were two bandhs going on in different parts of the valley.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Crow talker man threatens to halt Nepal's airport

STAFF WRITER 16:21 HRS IST Kathmandu, Jul 18 (PTI) A man who claims to converse with crows and gather thousands of them by his command has threatened to paralyse Nepal's only international airport if the government does not help him get his name enlisted in the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records. Gautam Sapkota, 27 who has reportedly got the unique skill could not get his name enlisted in the Guinness World Records due to financial problems, though he has already initiated the process of registration last year. Speaking at a press conference in eastern Nepal town Dharan yesterday, Sapkota gave three month ultimatum to the government to help him get his name registered in the Guinness World Records.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

why sheep? pt3

Why does a developing world hospital keep sheep onsite? Blood. Lab people often seem the vampires of the hospital. Have you ever given a blood sample for lab testing? Blood is one of the easiest things to get as a sample to reveal a lot of information for a doctor to use. Ever heard of a petri dish or an agar plate? Well, in order to test body fluids for bacteria that eat or destroy blood cells, a little bit of blood is mixed into the agar gel in the plate. Usually this is 5% sheep’s blood because that is easy. If the bacteria are staph or strep from a throat swab, it will grow on the gel and “clear” the red blood color as it consumes it (see pic or visit  
There are families of bacteria that thrive on the iron in blood. These tests, a microscope and a good lab technician can help in diagnosis so that the doctor can prescribe proper treatment.


So, the well fed handful of sheep act as regular blood donors to help patients receive proper diagnosis. The lab people told me that it is common to also use out-of-date human blood from the blood bank when available, so nothing is wasted.  In more developed countries, blood agar plates are just another item to place on order from a science supply catalog. The sheep are housed elsewhere.


Should the next trivia question be easier? J

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why would a hospital need sheep pt2

Well, the answer is not:


  1. to cut grass – this would make sense to people who have to cut weekly. Here, though, animals aren’t fenced in – cattle roam the streets anyway. Plus it may not rain 9m/yr. So, if the grass does need cutting for cosmetic purposes (very rare & not a high priority), it’s done maybe 2x/yr.
  2. Scare off monkeys – I wish.
  3. Milk – have not heard of that one. Water buffalo is the staple here.
  4. Meat – Nope. A handful of sheep wouldn’t do much for a hospital of 200 beds.
  5. Bait for wild animals that would otherwise eat the humans – Nope. There is an uncontrolled street dog population available.


There is a “scientific” reason. Those who have lab experience, even microbiology lab class, have an edge. Although, I did not figure it out. Someone told me. J And it was spoken as if it was the most reasonable and obvious thing for a lab person to know. This is way more hints than I had.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why would Patan Hospital in Kathmandu keep a few sheep roaming on the grounds?

There is a good scientific explanation. Give me your best answer. J

Saturday, July 11, 2009

090712 Blog Update

Do you recognize the two trees on either side of the outpatient clinic sign? They are both native in my hometown and one is my state tree. J This morning when I walked outside it sounded like a pet shop. I hard time trying to see them in the trees, but it sounded like a good sized flock of happy parakeets had decided to descend on compound.  The power outages are at the annual minimum about now. We just heard that we are down to 1 “scheduled” hr per day off. It’s a pity that this extra energy cannot be stored properly against the other 9 months of the year when rain does not fill the rivers with hydroelectric power.   


The past few weeks have been spent writing grant proposals and evaluations. This coming week, two of our Masters students from Tribhuvan University are hoping to have their final thesis defense.  They both worked hard at Anandaban for almost 3 years on a project investigating strain typing for tracking short range transmission of leprosy. It was a lot of work! There are also several sets of government paperwork that need to be submitted this week and next. Next week, a project auditor from the US will come to check on the skin test project paperwork. At the same time, Dr. Hugh Cross, our TLM national rep, will be here for strategic 5yr planning meetings for the hospital. Doesn’t everyone enjoy back-to-back all day long intense meetings?


The week after that… I leave for Japan and Hong Kong. In Fukuoka, Japan there will be an NIH US/Japan cooperative Leprosy and Tuberculosis meeting. Scientists will present their latest findings for discussion. It’s a great opportunity to learn, meet with collaborators and see friends and colleagues! After that, I’ll fly to Hong Kong for a biosafety and good clinical practices training workshop specific for leprosy and TB. The last time I attended a workshop hosted by this group, we were in sessions essentially from breakfast til evening – lots of information. This trip and workshop is funded by the US National Institutes of Health. So, US tax payers, this is something that you are funding. Many sincere thanks! Two of us from Nepal are receiving the training as well as another Leprosy Mission lab staff from Cebu. Hopefully, the training will help us maintain the best levels of lab procedures in handling human samples for hospital testing and research.   


By the way, working in a developing country diagnostic laboratory makes for special opportunities. Yes, my office door is right next to where samples are taken for lab testing. How often do people bring their sputum to you in bottles like this? This patient had shown considerable thoughtfulness to carry this with him on his journey to Anandaban. Ishwor promptly added Lysol. I think we prefer our sputum samples freshly hacked on site.


The internet has slowed again of late. Oh well, when you notice that I don’t post as much it is most likely due to power, internet and/or workload issues. It is never, ever because there is a lack of things going on! If I have good internet access in Japan or Hong Kong, I will try to find time to post pics and maybe even video.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Dozen Daughters in Pursuit of a Son (A baby's gender considered a woman's "accomplishment" or "fault")

CHITWAN, June 28: She used to be sprightly and had an aura among her peers in the neighborhood. But a dozen failed attempts at a son later, 47-year-old Krishna Maya Latoula looks like an elderly. Physically and mentally exhausted, she now lives on medicines to support her ailing body that has taken the toll of her indomitable pursuit of that elusive dream and the nightmarish fallout of her failure. Wed to Dashrath of Kumroj-6 while just 15, she has spent 27 years of her married life pursuing the ultimate dream of a Hindu woman. But she had to finally surrender to the ever-ticking biological clock and have not been able to deliver after the youngest daughter Joshna five years ago. Ironically though, the final blow has brought with it a sense of relief for the mother of a dozen daughters. “I take solace in the fact that I no longer have to go through his physical abuse and snide remarks for failing to conceive a son,” Krishna Maya says with misty eyes. “I endured everything for the son but…,” the emotions take over and she fails to complete the sentence.

Living in a joint family with Dashrath´s mother and brother, who ironically has two sons, Krishna Maya has had three of her 10 alive daughters married. The eldest Kala has given a grandson, who lives with Krishna Maya, but that is no consolation for Dashrath. “I had hopes that the son would look after me through my old age, make my name in society and get me across Baitarni (a filthy river on the way to heaven described in Hindu mythology that can only be crossed after rituals performed by a son) but my hopes remain unfulfilled,” Dashrath complains. But Dashrath´s octogenarian mother Laxmi—who still actively heads the middle-class family that owns two tractors, two bigaha of land and a small shop—surprisingly has a different perspective. “There is no difference between a son and a daughter,” Laxmi believes. “Even though I harbored hopes of a grandson, I had advised Dashrath to stop after five. But he did not listen,” she reveals. Dashrath, to his credit, has not neglected his daughters despite being paranoid about having a son. Chanda and Jamuna, like the eldest Kala, have been married while Leela and Sita are studying in the 12th and 11th grades respectively. Ram Maya is in the eighth grade, Shova in seventh, Rama fourth, Durga second and Joshna in kindergarten. “Despite having many daughters, he (father) has never left us short on food and education,” the seventh daughter Shova says. "But he still craves for a son," Shova adds. Krishna Maya knows that craving and empathizes with Dashrath, and even looks to have that feeling of having let him down despite all his criticisms and abuses. “I could have died peacefully only if I had a son,” she completes her earlier sentence. (Sometimes a new wife is obtained in an attempt to resolve this issue, further solidifying the first wife as a failure in the community or leaving her abandoned.)


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Monsoon & Rice Planting

Monsoon means rice planting season. Flooded patties in the valleys and steppe fields cut into the hill sides are everywhere possible. Rice is the daily staple for most Nepalese, so this season is important for the year’s food supply. EVERYTHING is done by hand (or water buffalo). The rains have come late and little so far. People are trying to flood the patties artificially from valley streams to get things going. The temps could begin to fall again before the crop yields.


(Late monsoon brings fear of food shortage in Nepal


Further up into the Himalayas, where people cannot get rice, they eat a thick play-dough like mix of barley meal and water (it lands like lead). The first time that softball sized lump came on my plate, someone recommended that I hurry up and eat it while it was still hot and pliable – because it would only get harder as it cooled. I tried for awhile pulling off pieces like taffy with my hand to dip in lentils; but then my friends had mercy and gave me some rice (which they had all requested – serious hint there). Rice is the preferred food when available. By the way, a leopard has been sighted on compound twice within the last week, at least once in daylight. I haven’t heard of a leopard attacking a person around here. Tigers have a different record within nearby village areas. It’s difficult to tell though sometimes as the word “leopard” is mostly used here for both. Remember Bagheera the black leopard in The Jungle Book? The word here is bagh. The monsoon rains have also helped to ease the water shortage here in this high altitude valley. Here is a sample of today’s tap water. I had just got back from KTM and needed a shower. J All water for drinking has to filtered and then boiled for 5-10 minutes; but a lot of people don’t do it. It costs fuel to boil water like that for daily use in a household.

Late monsoon brings fear of food shortage in Nepal

LALITPUR, Nepal (AFP) — Every year, Nepalese rice farmer Ratnakaji Maharjan celebrates the arrival of the monsoon rains by attending a centuries-old festival in this historic town near Kathmandu. The annual event, in which a huge chariot said to carry the Hindu rain god Machchindra Nath is pulled through the streets of Lalitpur, draws crowds from across the Kathmandu Valley to celebrate and pray for a good monsoon. But this year, Maharjan's mood was more subdued than celebratory as he queued to worship before the wooden chariot. "The monsoon is almost a month late," complained the 35-year-old, whose family has farmed here for five generations. "The weather patterns seem to have changed, and we don't know how to adjust."

Nepal's long-delayed monsoon finally arrived in the Kathmandu Valley on Monday, allowing local farmers to begin transplanting their seedlings to the waterlogged rice paddies after weeks of anxious waiting. But there are fears the delay could prove devastating for this year's rice crop, and experts say the increasing unpredictability of the weather is causing huge problems for farmers in one of the world's poorest countries. "The monsoon this year started around three weeks late," said Krishna Prasad Paudyal, senior scientist with the government-funded Nepal Agriculture Research Council. "This was a major setback for rice planting, which requires lots of water. The delayed monsoon meant a lot of young seedlings died, and even those that could be planted won't have time to mature enough to yield a good crop." Rice accounts for almost 50 percent of cereal production in Nepal, which is particularly dependent on rainfall because less than one-third of its agricultural land is irrigated. The delay to the monsoon came after the landlocked country suffered its driest winter for 40 years, resulting in a fall of 20-25 percent in the production of wheat, Nepal's second-biggest crop after rice.

-- Serious food shortages looming --

Three years after Nepal's decade-long civil war came to an end, the World Food Programme (WFP) says many people are still living in near-crisis conditions, with 41 percent of the population undernourished. Almost one in four Nepalese people live on less than a dollar a day, and around 2.7 million depend on WFP food aid. "There are 16 districts that are highly or severely food insecure as a result of the drought and underlying factors like high food prices and poverty," WFP country director for Nepal Richard Ragan told AFP. "WFP has food-for-work projects in these districts, but we are rushing to include people living in drought-affected villages not covered under our activities." Ragan said the latest drought was particularly devastating because it followed more than 18 months of high food prices and years of poor crop production in many areas. "Many people have used up all of their food and cash reserves and are now forced to take drastic measures to survive -- like skipping meals and selling off agricultural assets," he added. Some local officials are predicting worse to come if this year's rice harvest is poor. Balgobinda Pathak, a government agriculture official in western Achham district, said he was expecting serious food shortages later in the year. "Last winter, food production was down by 60 per cent decrease due to erratic weather and some floods," he said. "This year, 50 per cent of crops have already been destroyed due to lack of rainfall. We will see a massive food crisis later this year." Experts say Nepal is unprepared for the changing weather patterns, and will have to do more to adapt to rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall. "What we have seen lately is not just a change in the weather, but extreme variability in weather patterns," said Pitamber Sharma, a professor and expert on urban and rural planning. "These kind of erratic weather patterns will have a huge impact on farming and cultivation."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Headline news in Nepal

Nepal sees only 12 days free of strikes in 6 months

KATHMANDU, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Nepal's statistics showed that in the past six months only 12 days were free of any kind of strike, local media reported Sunday. According to a report of The Himalayan Times daily, strikes or bandhs have lasted for 166 days in the past six months, disrupting traffic and shutting down government offices, business establishments, hospitals and bazaars. All days in January, February and April saw a strike in some part of the country. Except for March 18 and June 13, strikes were recorded every day in the two months. In May, 46 bandhs were recorded, while June has seen 57 bandhs and strikes so far. The statistics, compiled from incidents reported by mass media across the country, also reflect that the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN-M) has been using bandh as a tool for protest after it stepped down from the government in the first week of May, according to the report.  Organizations affiliated with UCPN-M enforced 22 bandhs and strikes in June and 17 in May. The party enforced bandhs for 69 such programs in the past six months. Other parties are also not far behind when it comes to enforcing bandhs. The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist organized 15 and 17 bandhs respectively in the last six months. Not only the political parties, even locals have started enforcing bandhs to fulfill their demands. In the last six months, the locals organized bandhs and strikes across the country for 175times. They mainly blocked roads demanding compensation for the families of accidents victims.

    Armed outfits and Terai-based groups in southern Nepal enforced such programs 145 times while the transporters and traders enforced bandh 92 times in the period. According to the daily, the increasing culture of bandhs is severely affecting the poor's ability to feed themselves, forcing many to skip meals and scavenge for food or borrow money and sell off assets to survive, the United Nations World Food Program said in a bulletin. The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries also informed that the nation loses revenue worth 7 to 14 million U.S. dollars on every bandh day. According to the police, bandhs and strikes were recorded on 254 days in 2008. The strikes were carried out by political parties, ethnic groups, students, labor groups, journalists, traders and teachers, among others.