With heart complications the leading cause of death among Nepali migrants, doctors recommend blood pressure screenings before departure

Kathmandu , June 6th 2019

Last week, Madhusudhan Shrestha, a Nepali migrant worker in South Korea, died under mysterious circumstances. Shrestha, from Arghakhanchi district, had gone to bed as normal, but never woke up the next morning, said his roommate.

While details are forthcoming, doctors believe that Shrestha’s sudden death could possibly be attributed to cardiovascular reasons, the leading cause of death among Nepali migrant workers in foreign lands, according to a recent report from the Labour Ministry.

According to the ‘Labour Migration for Employment—A Status Report for Nepal: 2015/16-2016/2017’, 1,588 migrants—1,144 men and 444 women—have died of cardiac arrests and heart attacks in the past nine years. A total of 5,892 Nepalis—5,765 male and 127 female—have lost their lives in foreign countries over the same period, an average of 1.7 deaths every day.

“Neither the Nepal government nor the labour-receiving country is concerned about the lives of Nepali migrant workers,”said Dr Ram Kishor Sah, consultant cardiologist at Bir Hospital. “The only disease that they are concerned with is tuberculosis.”

Sah was part of a Health Ministry team dispatched in the winter of 2017 to South Korea, on the request of the Nepali Embassy in Seoul, to investigate the high number of deaths due to cardiac arrests and suicides among Nepali migrant workers.

Sah’s team visited a number of South Korean cities where Nepali migrants are working, organised health camps, and inquired about their problems.

A large proportion of migrant workers were found to be suffering from high blood pressure and cardiovascular complications, said Sah. Even those who had been diagnosed with problems were not taking their medication regularly, instead using homemade ginger-garlic concoctions to maintain their blood pressure.

“We found out that no one had examined the workers’ blood pressure, neither before leaving Nepal nor after reaching Korea,” said Sah.

Doctors also found problems with the dietary habits of migrant workers. Their diets consisted primarily of oily and fatty foods, and excessive alcohol, all of which contribute to raising cholesterol levels and can lead to arrhythmias—irregular heartbeats—which can sometimes be fatal, according to Sah.

Nepali migrants in South Korea, like elsewhere in the world, were ill-equipped to adapt to the new environment, including its tough working conditions. Workers suffered social isolation and loneliness, leading to them neglecting their health and thus contributing to their deaths.

The medical team had prepared a report upon returning and submitted it to the Ministry of Health and Population, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social security, the Korean Employment Permit System, and the Nepali Embassy in South Korea. They had recommended that migrant workers be screened for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems before being sent to foreign lands.

The report also suggests that the Nepal government coordinate with the South Korean government to conduct regular health check-up of migrants. However, over a year later, none of the recommendations have been implemented, even as Nepalis continue to fly to South Korea.

According to Dr Mohan Raj Shrestha, a senior psychiatric consultant who led the medical team, operating mobile health camps in areas where Nepali migrants are present in big numbers could help save lives. Other preventive measures include launching an awareness campaign about the benefits of healthy eating and alcohol moderation, and keeping up to date digital health records of workers. Doctors also suggested that the migrants could form an informal organisation to gather regularly and share problems in a quasi-support group.

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