Part I: Expanding to Bhutan The first of three parts, detailing ReSurge’s journey in ‘Expanding to Bhutan.’

Where is Bhutan?

Bhutan, a constitutional monarchy about the size of Switzerland, borders the Himalayas, and sits between India and China. As a mountainous, land-locked country, Bhutan is geographically isolated. Its isolation is magnified by a historical policy of barring foreign tourists to protect its culture and traditions.

Photo captures Bhutan's rich culture and history still evident in physical architecture and landscape (June 2016)

For the last several years, Bhutan’s Royal Institute of Health Sciences has focused on developing primary health care systems. However, Bhutan still faces a shortage of trained medical personnel with only 2 doctors and 8 nurses per 10,000 people. Compared to neighboring countries like India, Bhutan's capacity for treating patients is less than half. With no medical schools of its own, Bhutan depends on neighboring countries for medical education. Students wishing to pursue health, and more specifically, surgery, must attend school in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Today, Bhutan is working towards its own medical and nursing training programs.

Burn treatment and reconstruction is one area of health that is dramatically affected by the shortage of medical personnel. Compared to the United States, there is a much higher incidence of burns in Bhutan and other South Asian countries, primarily among women and children. This is the result of accidental contact with open fires used for cooking and heating, lantern explosions, and more recently, electrical and chemical causes. Without access to surgical treatment or surgical training, many burn injuries result in severe disfigurement, and congenital disabilities have gone untreated.

Margrit Elliot and Global Burn Care & Reconstructive Institute

Seeing this tremendous need, in 2000 longtime ReSurge volunteer Margrit Elliot assembled an independent team to travel to Bhutan to establish a reconstructive surgery program. Margrit recalls that her team's successes were in large part due to their ability to listen, and respect the culture. She says, “we also committed to partnering with local Bhutanese health care providers…training and continuity were key elements of our programming.”

Photo captures Margrit Elliot's dedication to collaborating with Bhutan's local leaders, particularly the Ministry of Health and University of Medical Sciences (June 2016).

To establish ongoing reconstructive surgery programs for Bhutan, Margrit created an organization called Global Burn Care and Reconstructive Institute (GBCRI). Through this organization, Margrit supported teams of doctors and nurses to travel to Bhutan several times a year. Through Margrit’s programming, doctors, nurses, and therapists from globally renowned institutions trained local doctors, treated burn victims, led seminars, and performed dozens of operations to repair cleft palates.

According to Bill H. Gates Sr., a supporter of the Global Burn Care and Reconstructive Institute, Margrit and her team are “definitely changing lives.”

Bill H. Gates Sr. is not the only one who has highlighted Margrit’s significant influence in Bhutan. In 2015, Margrit was honored by the King of Bhutan, on the 107th National Day (Bhutan's equivalent of Independence Day in the US).

Margrit Elliot has made 34 trips to Bhutan since the year 2000. As a result of her impact and influence, the King of Bhutan honored Margrit at the country's National Day in December of 2015. Margrit is pictured here with her award, personally bestowed by his Majesty.

When speaking of the King’s award, Margrit says that the personal recognition by the King was “totally unexpected, clearly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and very special, as no one outside Bhutan has ever been honored in this fashion.” Without a doubt, Margrit’s work in Bhutan has made a significant impact. As a result of their quality and thoughtful design, her programs have become well-known and respected by key government and community leaders.

After receiving national praise and acknowledgment in Bhutan, Margrit knew she wanted to make a larger impact in treating and training locals. In pursuit of this goal, Margrit met with Dr. James Chang, ReSurge's consulting medical officer. After learning more about ReSurge's Global Training Program (RGTP) and its effectiveness in surgical training worldwide, she and her organization have elected to partner with ReSurge to expand their work in Bhutan. When asked about ReSurge and GBCRI's partnership, Margrit says,

“I want to continue training the next generation of surgeons, but on a larger scale. I think that together with ReSurge, we can make that a reality in Bhutan.”
Look for more updates on ReSurge's Expansion in Bhutan-Coming Soon!

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