At 14600 feet (approximately 4600 metres) Pheriche Hospital is one of only two aid posts owned and run by the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) of Nepal. Pheriche is situated at a critical location just two days from Mt Everest’s Base Camp and on a popular trekking route where illness at altitude begins to bite. The hospital was built in 1974 by the Japanese as both a hospital and a research centre.
Over the last decade, due to lack of funding, the hospital had begun to decay. It had no heating, water or adequate power due to the difficulty and/or expense of supplying it – the nearest road head is 10 days walk away; to fly or porter is gas cylinders is expensive. The only electricity came from two small solar panels that powered 6 10 watt light bulbs, one HF radio and very restrictive use of an oxygen concentrator. There was not enough power for simple equipment, such as ECG machines, examination lights etc. The only form of communication in the district is the HF radio and this only has the power to be used in emergencies. It has sporadic and poor coverage. The building itself provided cold, cramped and uncomfortable accommodation for patients and staff alike. It was not inviting for use as a research base and did not have the power that would be required.
The Everest Memorial Trust has dedicated itself into breathing new life back into this important facility.
Altitude can and does kill. It is no respecter of age or fitness. Its associated illnesses can strike rapidly and without warning even if the rules of ascent have been obeyed. Pheriche hospital is there for three purposes:
1: To provide acute medical aid to all in the area.
2: To educate by means of daily lectures.
3: To provide a facility for much needed research into the diseases of altitude.
Staffed by volunteer Doctors from all countries from the beginning of March until the monsoon at the end of May and from September till mid December, Pheriche provides a vital source of medical help for the 5000 trekkers and their attendant staff who carry, guide and care for them.
In the last few years much more has been offered to the Nepali support staff. Including last year for the first time, 3 porters evacuated by helicopter, an event previously unheard of due to the lack of insurance by the trekking agencies for their employees.
Many porters originate from the lowlands of the Terai and are no more acclimatised than the trekkers. Expected to carry loads of up to 80 kg some are obviously more prone to altitude sickness than their employers -“No Carry No Money”. So porters carry when sick and go higher instead of down. Abandoned to their own resources many have died. Now with greater Sherpa welfare organisations in Nepal the clothing needs of porters are being addressed, at the sharp end in Pheriche the needs of the porters is as important as ever.
Three years ago those treated where predominantly trekkers but last season the ratio had changed - in favour of the Nepalis. In addition to the trekking groups the hospital Doctors also provide care for the populations of the local Nepali villages. Charges are made for all consultations. Trekkers pay $40 plus the cost of their medication and treatment. Nepalis are charged 40 Rupees (45 pence or 50 cents) includes any treatment and medication.