Lhakpa Quendren

Gelephu—The Central Regional Referral Hospital (CRRH) in Gelephu initiated a knee replacement surgeries. Besides the much-needed health care, the initiative could save the government millions of Ngultrums otherwise spent on referring patients out of the country.

The six-day camp is conducted by a 22-member team from Operation International, USA, including five orthopedic surgeons joined by four orthopedic surgeons from Bhutan.

Forty-eight patients—19 male and 29 female—aged between 45 and 87 with chronic knee pain, are undergone surgeries to replace their knees. Considering a total cost of Nu 800,000 for each referred patient, according to the hospital, the replacement surgery would save over Nu 38 million.

The government, in recent years, has approved referring patients with chronic knee pain to India for total knee replacement surgery.

X-ray after total knee replacement surgery

While the government initiated total knee replacement surgery services at the national referral hospital at the end of 2022, the costly procurement of implants and limited operating theaters hindered the provision of regular services for chronic knee problems. An implant would cost between Nu 200,000 to Nu 400,000, depending on its brand.

The medical team in Gelephu, meanwhile, performed three surgeries on the first day on April 28 following the case presentations to select the cases.

Metals were used to replace damaged joints, which would restore mobility and reduce pain. About eight to 10 surgeries would be performed each day.

Medical superintendent of CRRH, Dr Choeda Gyaltshen, said that patients came from as far as Trashiyangtse. “As they age, there will be wear and tear at the knee joints, which causes pain and difficulty in walking or moving. After the replacement surgery, patient scan have a pain-free life, which will help improve their quality of life.”

A patient, Khando, said that he refused to undergo the surgery initially. “Not being able to endure the pain, I decided to undergo the replacement surgery upon hearing that foreign doctors were coming to perform it. I am forever grateful for this initiative.”

This is the second visit of Operation International, USA to Bhutan and the first such surgical camp being conducted by the team in the country.

During their weeklong camp at Mongar Eastern Regional Referral Hospital in March last year, 20 medical professionals performed 60 life-changing procedures, including laparoscopic hernia repair, two gastric cancer resections for patients previously waitlisted for overseas treatment, pancreatic tumor resection, and facial reconstruction for micrognathia.

Operation International, USA is a non-profit organisation specialising in organising medical missions, during which volunteer healthcare professionals perform surgeries and provide medical treatment to underserved communities.