FACT Featured Project Interview: Ryan Schwarz From Nyaya Health

Claire Sale
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In October, we announced the 15 Featured Projects for the FACT Social Justice Challenge and we are thrilled at the caliber and impact of all the Projects. As such, we want to give you a closer look at these collaborative technology Projects and the people behind them. We've already featured each of the 5 Challenge Winners, and we continue the series by interviewing the remaining Featured Projects. To see all of the FACT Challenge interviews, follow the fact interviews tag

In this post, we're featuring Ryan Schwarz from Nyaya Health about their idea to grow the Nyaya Health Wiki. Nyaya is an organization that provides healthcare to people in rural areas of Nepal, and which strives to make it's efforts replicable and scalable for rural regions globally. They designed the Nyaya Health Wiki to promote transparency, accountability, collaboration and the development of best practices for global health. 

Learn more about Nyaya Health and their wiki in the interview below!

Q. What was the inspiration for your Project? 

In 2005 Nyaya’s founders visited the remote and impoverished district of Achham, Nepal. They had previously been working in Kathmandu – the capital of Nepal and, relatively, a much more affluent and developed area of the country. What they found in Achham shocked and disappointed them and was the inspiration for Nyaya’s founding. 

Achham is a district in the western and extremely rural area of Nepal. Nepal is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, and because of the remote location of Achham, it is significantly less developed and much more impoverished than much of the rest of the country. Further, between 1996 and 2006 Achham was the epicenter of the civil conflict between the Maoists and the government, causing significant devastation of the little public infrastructure and services available.

Today in Achham the average income of a family is less than $1 per day. Literacy is at 33% and highlights the severe inequity between women and men: 52% of men are literate while only 14% of women are. Similarly, education rates are very poor with only 18% of men and 2% of women having completed post-secondary education. Maternal health is some of the worst in the country with only 7% of women delivering in health facilities resulting in critically high rates of maternal death. Childhood malnutrition rates are some of the worst in the country, and health infrastructure in the district remains severely limited.

Before Nyaya began our work, initial surveys suggested that over 95% of houses did not have access to electricity and only 45% of people had access to safe drinking water, 2.5 times worse than the national average. Additionally, due to lack of gainful employment opportunities in the region over two thirds of men in the region migrate to India for work. This migration pattern has fueled the largest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country as men frequently solicit commercial sex workers in India and return to transmit HIV to their wives and children. 

Since 2005 Nyaya has built a health center and subsequently opened a hospital complex – where previously there were 0 doctors for a region of over 300,000 people, there are now free health care services. While Achham has seen great progress in the last 5 years, there is still enormous progress to be made and Nyaya is committed to working with the Achhami people to achieve these goals.

Q. What else are you working on right now? 

Nyaya’s team is made up of a full-time staff of ~30 within Nepal, and a large network of volunteers in the USA and other countries. Our volunteer network comprises many people, ranging from students to professionals, doctors to engineers and researchers. We work on many different things but as a group are dedicated to providing health care for some of the most marginalized in the world.

Q. Where do you see your Project in 5 years? What about in 20 years?

Nyaya will continue to work in the Achham district, and in particular will continue to work hand in hand with the Nepali Minitstry of Health. Nyaya is committed to a model that bolsters the public sector and thereby aims to create a long-term and sustainable solution to health delivery in Nepal. Further, we aim to work with both the Ministry and other partners, both within Nepal and globally, to help inform best practices for the field of health delivery in resource-poor settings. Nyaya strives to disseminate information on all programs it develops in an effort to share our own experiences and lessons-learned with other organizations working on similar challenges throughout Nepal and other similar settings of poverty. In 5 years Nyaya will continue to maintain a presence in Achham however may also consider working with the Ministry of Health on projects in other areas of Nepal. Globally we will aim to increase our partnerships with similar organizations in an effort to both enhance our own programs, as well as offer other organizations the opportunity to learn from our experience.

Q. What help do you need to to get your Project off the ground?

Nyaya is looking for enhanced funding capacity in all areas. While a critical part of Nyaya’s operations are funded by the Nepali government, over half our operating costs are funded by individual giving and/or small foundations and grants.

In addition to funding Nyaya is also looking for further opportunities to collaborate with organizations working in Nepal or similar settings to further expand the global health field’s understanding of health delivery.

Q. How can people best follow your progress and/or get involved? 

Nyaya shares updates about our programs in 3 main venues: