KATHMANDU, Nepal — As earthquake victims lay waiting on the filthy floors of government hospitals, the private Ciwec Clinic is turning back anyone who can’t afford it.
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Since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, government hospitals have suffered a dire shortage of beds, the country’s Health Ministry has said.
Many of the injured are being sent home after receiving initial treatment; many are lying along roadsides. The Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu was filled in minutes.
Ciwec, which describes itself as a “hospital/travel medicine center,” is in the city center near foreign embassies. It is considered one of the best hospitals in the city, but on Wednesday it remained nearly empty.
The institution normally serves the city’s wealthy and tourists; it is considered fancy even by Western standards. Admission costs $50, even before a patient sees a doctor. Each specialized treatment costs hundreds of dollars.
There are 30 rooms, including treatment and operating rooms. The hospital can handle up to 100 overnight patients, though in a crisis it could handle many more.
It was hard to find patients to talk to. On Wednesday night there were only five overnight patients — some of them tourists, others wealthy locals. Some had undergone surgery, but none had been injured in the earthquake.
“It costs money to get into this hospital — not everyone can come here and get in,” said an employee who proudly showed us the rooms and equipment. “At first we served people who just showed up, but now it’s for people who can pay for the treatment. This place isn’t open to the wider public.”
Word of the clinic not letting people in spread quickly. “It’s hard to believe there are empty beds there when we don’t have enough room at other hospitals, with people waiting to be seen by doctors,” said a social activist who said he was afraid to give his name.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Shira Tzuk from Modi’in, who was airlifted out of a major trekking region, said Nepalese rescuers were giving priority to the well-connected.
“The first helicopter to arrive in the area, where there were 250 tourists, came to get out some rich kid,” she said. “There was a struggle, but he got on board.”
There are also rumors about food and medicine being sent to soldiers and tourists in cut-off areas, with villagers receiving nothing and having to loot shipments in order to survive.