71 years of service in health and community development: A look at International Nepal Fellowship’s Nepal programs

In 1952, a small medical team set up a clinic in Pokhara. That was the beginning of INF’s service in Nepal. Today the organization has expanded its services in multiple areas, helping Nepalis to access health care.

Yam Bahadur G.C.

  • Read Time 5 min.

Today marks the 71st anniversary of International Nepal Fellowship, one of the pioneer nonprofit organizations in the country. The organization has long been providing services in the area of health and community development since its establishment in 1952. 

The organization has accorded high value to principles such as love and compassion, dignity and compassion, and professional excellence and strives to bring life in all its fullness to the poor and deprived people in Nepal.

Since its establishment, INF has continued to treat and rehabilitate patients affected by leprosy by providing multi-drug therapy, reconstructive surgeries, peer counseling by former patients, self-care training for patients with disease complications, ongoing impairments, and the provision of assistive devices. The organization is also known for disability management and rehabilitation services in different parts of the country apart from public health and community development programs.

Beginning of the journey

The vision for INF’s work began in India in the 1930s. Noted philanthropist duo Lily O’Hanlon and Hilda Steel began medical work among Nepali people living in the Indian town of Nautanwa on the border of Nepal. 

Later in 1952, a small group including Lily and Hilda together with some Nepalis moved to Pokhara and set up a clinic. At the time, access to health was one of the major challenges of Nepal. A year later, the ‘Shining Hospital’–the first hospital in the western region of Nepal–was established in Tundikhel of Pokhara. 

The hospital provided maternal and neonatal health services, surgery facilities, and other treatments to the people of the western region of the country. Later in 1975, the Shining Hospital, a non-government venture operated by INF, came into operation under the name of Gandaki Regional Hospital with 50 beds upon the request by the Nepal government.

Expansion of services 

In the course of time, INF expanded its services in the other parts of western Nepal. After realizing that leprosy-affected people from Karnali, Rapti, Bheri, and Dhaulagiri regions were in need of timely treatment of the disease, INF started Green Pastures Hospital in 1957.

The work at the hospital includes treatment and care for people living with leprosy. Further, the hospital also provides treatment and rehabilitation for people living with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities and extends to reconstructive surgery, palliative care, and specialist ear care. Now the organization is planning to expand the services at the hospital. 

It is worth mentioning here that INF was requested by the government of Nepal to look after leprosy care missions in the whole western part of the country in 1974 given the well-managed work of INF in the area of treatment and care for people living with leprosy. 

In the 71-year-long journey, INF has left many remarkable marks in providing services to people in dire need of support. Despite difficulties, including resource constraints, INF has shown its unwavering commitment to providing health and other services to the Nepali people.

It has become possible due to the dedication and passion of its founders and other philanthropists to ensure ‘life in all its fullness for Nepal’s poor and disadvantaged’.

Areas of engagement

In terms of work, INF’s work covers a wide range of technical areas under two major categories: Community-based programs and clinical services. INF’s community-based programs include areas such as community health and development, community-based rehabilitation, maternal and child health and disaster response, and resilience among others. Similarly, clinical programs include health support services, leprosy treatment, medical surgical outreach, treatment of spinal cord injury, rehabilitation of general physical, and treatment of ear diseases and hearing problems. 

Based in Pokhara, INF implements its programs and projects in close collaboration and partnership with local authorities and communities. 

In terms of INF’s work by location, the organization covers a wide range of locations, mostly in the western part of Nepal. Currently, the organization provides services from various parts including Pokhara, Surkhet, Banke among others. 

Noted initiatives

Green Pastures Hospital, Pokhara: For almost 60 years, Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara has been providing treatment and care for people living with leprosy. The work at the hospital also includes treatment and rehabilitation for people living with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities and extends to reconstructive surgery, palliative care, and specialist ear care. Currently, the hospital has a capacity of 100 beds. 

Shining Hospital, Surkhet: The hospital is the only center of its type in the Karnali Province of Nepal that provides comprehensive leprosy and rehabilitation services for people with leprosy and disability. The hospital aims to reduce leprosy prevalence and contribute to the eradication of leprosy. It provides diagnostic services and acts as a referral mechanism for people with leprosy complications and people with physical disabilities, stroke, and spinal cord injury, in particular.

Shining Hospital, Banke: The hospital is a leprosy treatment health facility with 25 beds. Patients come from all over the midwestern region including the Lumbini and Karnali Province of Nepal and even from India. Moreover, the hospital organizes monthly Outreach camps in different government health posts of Banke and Bardiya districts so that they can develop their skills and later on they can organize health camps themselves.

Fistula Treatment Center: INF Nepal runs a 17-bed Fistula Centre within the Province Hospital, Karnali. The purpose-built facility, which Dr Shirley Heywood leads, can treat up to 300 women yearly. The Centre provides compassionate, loving, and counseling medical care to help women navigate the physical and emotional healing journey. The dedicated doctors and nurses work tirelessly to ensure their well-being, even going above and beyond to make the patients feel valued and supported.

Community-based rehabilitation: INF’s community-based rehabilitation program desires to see people with disabilities empowered to take an active part in their society. It does this through assisting people living with disability, as well as educating communities on how to accept and value people living with disability.

Future plan of action

The INF aims to execute the following plans in the days to come. Some of these plans have already been initiated.  First, INF aims to provide a complete and specialized service for persons with disabilities. Second, INF continues to implement community development programs in Sudur Paschim, Karnali and Lumbini provinces. Third, INF’s leprosy program continues to contribute to ‘zero transmission, zero discrimination, and zero disability.’

Fourth, Shining Hospital in Surkhet continues to provide quality care and services to people living with leprosy. Shining Hospital, Banke, and Green Pastures Hospital, Pokhara will take care of referral cases. Fifth, awareness, and capacity-building programs will be carried out in collaboration with local organizations to meet the government’s goal of achieving “zero leprosy.” Sixth, the upgradation of the Fistula Treatment Center, Surkhet in collaboration with the Provincial Hospital of Karnali Province. In the long run, INF plans to hand over the center to the provincial hospital.

Seventh, INF aims to establish Shining Hospital Banke as a model center for the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy cases. Finally, INF aims to expand the capacity of Green Pastures Hospital with 500 beds and develop it as a specialized hospital.

As 2023 marks the 71st anniversary of the International Nepal Fellowship, INF firmly continues to support local Nepali communities and healthcare services, to improve health, reduce poverty, and promote social inclusion.

(Yam Bahadur G.C. works as Leprosy Program Coordinator at International Nepal Fellowship.)