I will be a part of a team of about 20 physicians, residents, and medical students from all over the world with the goal of providing basic healthcare to remote Himalayan villages in India. This region of the world is inaccessible for ~ 7 months of the year due to extreme conditions (snow/ice) and limited road access. This trip provides the region some of the only healthcare they will receive all year. The plan is the set up army style tents to serve as our clinics. We will carry all of our own supplies, including basic medications, with an emphasis on preventive healthcare.
The local Indo/Tibetan population of these remote Indian villages. They are a humble, simple group of people who have very limited access to healthcare. If there is a complex patient requiring a higher level of care, we help arrange of transport to a hospital in a larger city.
I truly believe that sometimes small interventions can have a grand, lasting impact. The emphasis of this trip will be providing basic, primary healthcare with an emphasis on prevention. For example, many children in this region are commonly infected with parasitic infections of the gut due to contaminated water. This risk of being infected can be drastically reduced by boiling water and proper hand hygiene. If infected, the result can be chronic malabsorption which over years has shown to decrease overall IQ of children. The treatment is an anti-parasitic given in two doses (once now, once two weeks later, tastes like candy). A seemingly simple treatment which can give these children a fair chance to develop into their full cerebral potential. Additionally, this program Himalayan Health Exchange returns to the same regions every year to set up similar clinics and allow for continuity of care. I hope to to be part of this program for many years to come.
My experience with Himalayan Health Exchange was incredibly impactful. Our team of 22 medical professionals (attending, residents, medical students) saw ~ 500 patients in the remote Zanskar region of the Indian Himalayas. Many parts of this region lack access to regular medical care (due to remoteness and roads being closed many months of the year from snow/ice). Typical patient population was local village farm/field workers, Buddhist monks (due to the high prevalence of monasteries in the region), and migrant road workers from Eastern India. We had a basic pharmacy, able to provide antibiotics/anti-parasitics, anti-inflammatory medications, anti-hypertensives, dermatologic creams/ointments, wound care supplies, among other things. We also had an ultrasound machine used to screen for rheumatic valvular heart disease (given high prevalence in this region), as well as screening for other pathologies including cholecystitis, hepatitis, etc. A significant amount of education regarding basic primary preventive health practices was provided, including hand sanitation, healthy water practices, diet optimization, eye protection (high altitude sun exposure), lifting/stretching practices to optimize mobility and strength long term. Himalayan Health Exchange returns to the same villages/areas every year, thus establishing much needed continuity of care. Overall, this was an amazing experience in which I hope to participate in again!