June 30, 2011

BHUTAN: A twenty-year old association that endures

THIMPU, Bhutan / KuenselOnLine / News / June 29, 2011

A shared medical experience between the US and Bhutan
Health Volunteers Overseas

By Dechen Yangzom

When Dr Robert E Stein, an American orthopaedic surgeon, visited Bhutan 20 years ago, the country did not have any trained orthopaedic surgeons. Dr Stein discussed a possible collaboration between the Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) and Bhutan, and the first volunteer came in May 1991. This started a partnership between Bhutan and the United States that continues today.

Since then more than 200 volunteers have served 200 different assignments with various departments of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (file photo below) in Thimphu. This has been possible with funding from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).

“HVO was introduced to Bhutan at a critical time when Bhutan had the biggest shortage of medical specialists,” health secretary Dasho (Dr) Gado Tshering said. “Over the years HVO has shared their experiences with a number of Bhutanese specialists in anaesthesia, physical therapy, and emergency medicine.”

The current program director of orthopaedics for HVO in Bhutan, Dr Robert Hoffman, who was in Thimphu recently, said, HVO in Bhutan has branched out in many other departments, such as physical therapy, psychiatry, anaesthesia, paediatrics, internal medicine, and emergency medicine.

“HVO in Bhutan has matured and we’re now trying to give other doctors specialties in spinal, paediatric, and hand surgeries, as well as in sports medicine, which is a sub-area of orthopaedics,” Dr Hoffman said.

HVOs have also been training technicians at the Royal Institute of Health Sciences. A two-year old orthopaedic program has also been established at the Mongar regional hospital.

Although all the current orthopaedic surgeons in Bhutan were trained in Siriraj hospital under Mahidol University in Thailand, two other Bhutanese orthopaedic surgeons have attended a Surgical Implant Generation Network (SIGN) conference through HVO that donated machines to Bhutan for long bone fractures.

Bhutanese orthopaedic surgeons have also been invited to the United States to train with HVO doctors.

“Although Bhutan is comparably less developed in its medical grounds than the United States, HVO has improved the diversity of medical services in Bhutan and can be regarded to set the goal and direction of Bhutan’s future,” Dasho (Dr) Gado Tshering said.

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