Disaster: Just as the first returning batch of the Bhutanese medical relief team in Nepal entered Thimphu, a second earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck Nepal yesterday.

The remaining 52 members of the Bhutanese medical team, who are based in Trishuli, Nuwakot district, were reported safe, yesterday.

As a result of the earthquake, the Nepal medical command centre has also requested the Bhutanese team to suspend its exit plan and remain in Nepal.  A second return batch was supposed to have arrived in Bhutan tomorrow.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay also announced on social media that a high-level multi-sectoral earthquake preparedness committee had been established in the Prime Minister’s Office.  Lyonchoen announced that the committee would also take over work related to the Bhutan4Nepal effort.

The cabinet also discussed earthquake preparedness in Bhutan yesterday.

The first batch of 26 members arrived at Paro international airport yesterday morning.

Bhutan’s 78-member medical team was deployed to Nepal with a first batch on April 27, upon the command of His Majesty the King.  It was reinforced with an additional 15 members on May 5.

“We gave 100 percent to the deserving,” returning team member and spokesperson, Dr Tashi Tenzin, said, referring to the hundreds of patients that the Bhutanese team treated in Trishuli and surrounding villages.  He said the high level of dedication the team devoted towards helping the Nepalese people, without being overcome or hindered by any challenges, had been possible because of the support the team received from home.

He explained that, when the team first reached Nepal and the Nepalese government informed the team that it would be deployed to one of the worst hit areas, there were concerns about whether they would be able to handle an expected high number of casualties.

However, he added that, as it was His Majesty the King’s command to serve the people of Nepal, the team was highly motivated and prepared to serve wherever it would be placed.

The team was sent to Trishuli as it was one of the very few international relief teams that was self-sustainable.

On reaching Trishuli, the team found the Nuwakot district hospital non-operational and patients being referred to Kathmandu, explained Dr Tashi Tenzin.

The team’s first objective was to get the hospital running again.

“As soon as we reached there, we desuups, with three other medical team members, cleaned up the entire hospital, the operation theatre, the wards, and made it functional in around two hours,” said desuup Sonam Tshering.

Portable equipment taken along, like x-rays and ultra sound machines, were set up, and medical treatment, including major surgeries, begun almost immediately.

As a result, the number of patients also increased, with even victims from other districts, besides Nuwakot, being flown to the Bhutanese camp.

In the first three days, the team usually found itself operating late into the night.

In the first four days, the Bhutanese team treated 323 earthquake victims and conducted 76 surgeries.  It was only on the fourth day that the number of patients began decreasing.

The team has treated around 2,000 patients so far.

Desuup Sonam Tshering said that the work for the desuups had been to multi-task and help out in all areas.  This included anything, from pitching tents and cooking food, to transporting and comforting patients.

He added that the team’s efforts to help the Nepalese people had not gone unnoticed and had been appreciated.  He pointed out that, on their return journey to Bhutan, people had recognised them as the Bhutanese team from their orange coloured uniforms.

“We gave our best,” Desuup Singye Namgyel said. “I’m happy for being able to help our neighbours at a time of crisis.”

Dr Tashi Tenzin said that His Majesty the King’s wish that the Bhutanese medical team serve the people of Nepal had been fulfilled and continued to be fulfilled.

A farewell dinner, described as an “emotional” one, was hosted for the returning team members by locals of Trishuli on May 10.

The team was received by the chair of the Bhutan4Nepal centre, cabinet secretary Kinzang Wangdi, health secretary Dr Dorji Wangchuk, and Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon, zimpon wongma Tashi Penjore, at Paro international airport.

Meanwhile, the private Bhutan4Nepal fund raising effort by BMF’s Dawa Penjore has raised at least Nu 1.5M, while the government’s Bhutan4Nepal centre has raised Nu 0.9M.

The government’s Bhutan4Nepal media person, Tshering Wangmo, said that the multi-sectoral committee had decided that the financial donations being received would be used to cover additional expenses for medicine destined for Nepal.  She added this decision was reached following feedback from individual donors that their contributions reach the grassroots people in Nepal.

Tshering Wangmo also pointed out that, once the relief effort concludes, a detailed income and expenditure statement would be published and made available through the media to ensure transparency and accountability.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro