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.
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.”