The team’s ability to speak Nepali proved to be a huge advantage

Quake: After treating almost 2,000 victims of the April 25 earthquake, the last batch of Bhutan’s 78-member medical relief team to Nepal returned to Bhutan, yesterday.

This brings to an end Bhutan’s first ever major disaster relief operation outside its borders.

The medical team was deployed to Nepal upon the command of His Majesty The King on April 27, two days after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

During its 22-day deployment, the team treated 1,996 victims and conducted 222 major surgeries.

On the current situation in Trishuli, where the team was deployed, team leader, Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk, said that earthquake-related cases had ceased and that the team had been treating routine emergencies.

He said that, as the Bhutanese team had turned Trishuli hospital into a referral hospital, there had been concerns about the team leaving.  However, Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk said all patients and victims operated on were “properly” handed over to local doctors.

Asked to share the team’s experience in Nepal, Dr Tobgyal said that, when the team arrived in Trishuli, they found the hospital, which covered three districts, in bad shape, with local health assistants and doctors overwhelmed.

The team was deployed to Trishuli, one of the worst hit areas, as it was one of the few international teams self-sufficient in terms of medical and food supplies, among others.  The team also was equipped with its own power generator and portable medical equipment.

The team’s first objective was to “reactivate” the hospital, said Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk.  A team of desuups and medical personnel cleaned up the hospital and had it operational within two hours.  Within that time, the Bhutanese medical team also began treating patients and even conducting surgeries.

On the second day, after the relief team displayed their capabilities, the Nepalese army began airlifting victims to the Bhutanese camp, rather than Kathmandu, which was already overloaded with patients.

“The first five days were a very hectic time,” Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk said.

On the challenges of having to deal with such a disaster situation, in terms of the kinds of injuries and stories team members had to face, Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk said that, as a result of His Majesty The King’s command that the team perform well, all team members were fully motivated and committed.  Within five days the team was able to clear any backlog in patients requiring surgery.

The team’s ability to speak Nepali was also a huge advantage.

In an earlier interview, Dr Ugyen Tshering, a member of the team, and while still in Trishuli, had pointed out how the ability to communicate directly with patients, without the need for a translator, had meant that the best possible medical treatment could be provided without delay.

“Patients feel reassured when communicating directly to the doctor, and feel more free to share information that they might be uneasy to share to a translator,” he said. “And direct communication prevents the chance of some important information being lost in translation.”

Dr Tobgyal Wangchhuk pointed out that the team’s experience had also allowed for Bhutan to learn about preparing and responding to an earthquake.  He said that the Nepalese had prepared, but had not prepared enough.  He added that the experiences of the individual members of the team could now be compiled and contribute to preparations for such an earthquake.  As a result, he said that Bhutan would be better prepared if and when it was hit by a powerful earthquake.

The team was received by the cabinet and health secretaries upon arrival at Paro international airport.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro