February 2018 | Issue 34

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Project Aasha brings hope to the Himalayas

Byline Reuben Ho.pngByline Ravinatharan.pngReuben Ho, Class of 2022, and Ravintharan, Class of 2021 

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." That's how Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, who in 1953 together with Tenzing Norgay became the first to conquer Mount Everest, later described his feat.

Perseverance and grit enable us to achieve the extraordinary. This aptly summarised the spirit of the seven medical students from Project Aasha as we embarked on our Overseas Community Involvement Project (OCIP) from 16 to 29 December 2017.

Following on from the trip in 2016, the objective this time round was to conduct a general health screening in the remote village of Bung. In a bid to maximise attendance from the villagers, we decided that the health screening would be best held at the local village clinic – the newly renovated Sir Edmund Hillary Clinic.

Following a tour of the clinic's facilities and layout, confirmation of our medical supplies and setup, we began a two-day health screening camp which saw more than 200 locals come from the different districts. We did H. pylori screenings, blood glucose measurements and eye tests. To help us bridge the language barrier, we had a team of translators who were an invaluable addition to our team.

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With the help of local translators, the students take patients' history for triage purposes

We were equally fortunate to have three distinguished doctor mentors from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) as well as two physiotherapy students accompany us on this trip. The former offered consultations and where necessary, conducted specialised procedures that the local health workers lacked expertise in, such as knee aspirations and paediatric femoral central venous access. The physiotherapy students educated and conducted physiotherapy sessions for patients with musculoskeletal problems, and handed out leaflets with diagrams for easy reference in the future.

We were never quite able to meet our target of ending the health screening at 5pm as the queue showed no signs of abating, even as temperatures dipped further after nightfall. We continued tending to each patient who came to our doors before finally leaving at 8pm. This reminded us of the sacrifices required in the delivery of healthcare, particularly that of patient-centred care. It might have been tough, but the heartfelt thanks received from each patient at the end of the health screening were well worth it.

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Our team teaches villagers simple physiotherapy exercises to alleviate chronic musculoskeletal pains

With so much data collected, the next step lies in processing it and identifying the most pertinent healthcare needs plaguing the Bung population. Preliminary findings suggest that musculoskeletal, eye and gastro-intestinal illnesses are some of the areas of concern that need to be addressed. Aside from short-term solutions such as dispensing medications, we will explore more sustainable means of treatment through education.

The road ahead might be challenging but its rewards are telling. To quote Sir Edmund once more: "Life's a bit like mountaineering – never look down." Project Aasha will continue to strive for greater heights in the years to come.

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The LKCMedicine team together with their hosts from whom they​ learnt a lot about their culture and common medical practices