A three-member Bhutan Emergency Aeromedical Retrieval Team (BEAR) has achieved remarkable feat by saving many lives that would otherwise have been impossible given the long journey to the nearest health facilities and difficult terrain that separate our many villages.

The BEAR, with the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited, provides elite trauma and medical resuscitation to patients and undertake life-saving surgical procedures. Recently, the team was in Khamdang, Trashiyangste helping a woman give birth to twins. After giving blood transfusion to the mother, the team evacuated her to Mongar Referral Hospital. On May 31, the team flew a 47-year-old woman from Samtse who was gored by a buffalo. She was in severe respiratory distress and in shock when she arrived in Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, Thimphu. BEAR responds to any life-threatening emergencies with the Health Help Centre 112 to ensure that it is able to reach the patients in critical need anywhere in the country. So far, the team has saved 10 Bhutanese lives.

For a mountainous country like Bhutan where people in the far-off villages have to walk for hours to get to the nearest road head or health facility, timely treatment and medical services that they require is often difficult. Many lives are lost due to distance and remoteness of communities. In summer when monsoon blocks our highways and washes away bridges, bringing patients to the referral hospitals can be challenging. We are talking about a period between June and August. That’s why medical and emergency service like the one that BEAR provides is laudable.

Because of the critical role that BEAR plays in saving lives, the team must grow. We have learnt that the team is currently training Bhutanese physicians to join the team both academically and physically to ensure readiness. This is good news. More heads in the team would mean that it will be able to render reliable service and help make the service sustainable. Bhutan Foundation, a non-profit organisation that focuses primarily on culture preservation, environment, good governance, and sustainable socioeconomic development, is campaigning to support and fund the BEAR by collecting donations from abroad.

The government must render all manner of support that the BEAR requires to strengthen and professionalise the team so that our people in remote pockets of the country are able to avail of emergency health and evacuation services on time. In the meanwhile, we applaud the services of the BEAR and wish the team well.