Wildfires narrowly miss flagship hospital in Nepal

High in the hills above Kathmandu lies an incredible medical centre. But this week, forest fires nearly reached its doors.

Anandaban Hospital provides healthcare to thousands of people affected by leprosy, from wound care to reconstructive surgery. The hospital also serves the surrounding community. Just recently, a new emergency room, operating theatre, and maternity ward were built.

The setting is idyllic, overlooking the verdant forests surrounding the capital city. But this week the staff and patients at Anandaban have felt the heat of wildfire raging through the trees.

Nepal is vulnerable to forest fires. 2024 has been the worst year for wildfires since records began in 2012. 2,700 fires been reported across the country in the last six months, the impact of climate change burning across the landscape. Not only do these fires endanger people’s homes and lives - they have also caused the air quality in Kathmandu to plummet.

Nepal Forest Fire 1.jpg

Peter Waddup, our Chief Executive, took this photo of the fires in the forest surrounding Anandaban at 9 pm on Monday 30 April.

He said: "We were reassured last night by our wonderful hospital manager that the blaze was still a couple of days away from the hospital. So we all went to bed at the hospital guest house not unduly worried.

"But first thing this morning the hospital manager told us he had been alerted by the authorities in the night. The blaze had spread significantly, and he had been up most of the night reviewing evacuation plans.

“We asked what we could do to help and were told that they needed to move the patients as far away from the fire as possible. There are a couple of old unused wards at the other side of the hospital site. Some of our amazing supporters from across the UK who are visiting Anandaban Hospital this week immediately rolled up their sleeves. They set to work disinfecting the old wards.

“At this point we were unsure if the whole site would need to be evacuated. After we had finished preparing the wards, we were told there was little more we could do to help. We were advised to move to Kathmandu which is where we are now.

“The last I heard from the Country Leader of The Leprosy Mission Nepal is that the flames have narrowly missed the hospital site. It was a tense situation as the blaze had jumped a firebreak they put in place.”

The team at Anandaban are no stranger to emergencies. They were instrumental in the earthquake relief efforts in 2015, when the hospital became a disaster relief centre. And they once again responded to a national crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic. A 10-bed isolation unit was opened, and the team cared for hundreds of critically ill patients.

"It has been a traumatic time for hospital staff who always put the safety of their patients before their own”, Peter Waddup said. "They have responded so amazingly to so much adversity. We just pray that all staff and patients remain safe, and the hospital buildings remain unscathed."