Aus­tralian ther­a­pists take a hands-on jour­ney to Bhutan

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SUZANNE CARA­GIA­NIS

THE ex­pres­sion ‘‘to lend a hand’’ is fa­mil­iar to most peo­ple but we had a chance re­cently to pro­vide help in a spe­cific hands-on way in Bhutan.

Tourism is lim­ited in this beau­ti­ful Hi­malayan king­dom to en­sure the frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment re­mains un­spoiled. Our visit was not as tourists — one of us is a phys­io­ther­a­pist, the other an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist — but as vol­un­teers pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sional care for hands, which are ev­ery per­son’s most es­sen­tial tools.

In Bhutan, as in too many other devel­op­ing coun­tries, the med­i­cal treat­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of hand in­juries and dis­or­ders are of­ten over­looked be­cause of a lack of ex­per­tise. Typ­i­cal in­juries in­clude frac­tures, am­pu­ta­tions, ten­don da­m­age, de­for­mi­ties and, par­tic­u­larly, burns as the ru­ral Bhutanese gen­er­ally cook food over wood fires.

On this most re­cent trip ( Suzanne’s third), we gave our time and skills as up­per-limb ther­a­pists to pre­pare and de­liver an ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing pro­gram for local med­i­cal staff and to treat pa­tients at hos­pi­tals in Thim­phu, the cap­i­tal, and Pu­nakha in cen­tral Bhutan.

We con­ducted two-day cour­ses on the con­ser­va­tive man­age­ment of up­per-limb in­juries and also

their taught ther­a­pists how to use two elec­tric sewing ma­chines (for the fabri­ca­tion of neo­prene splints) that had gen­er­ously been do­nated to us ahead of our visit.

Our cour­ses were an over­whelm­ing success, with 69 at­ten­dees, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s four or­tho­pe­dic sur­geons; all the par­tic­i­pants passed.

Be­fore our visit we had for­warded 18 boxes of do­nated handther­apy equip­ment, such as splint­ing ma­te­ri­als, pre­fab­ri­cated splints, ex­er­cise aids and ref­er­ence books, and th­ese ma­te­ri­als are now be­ing put to good use in district hos­pi­tals through­out Bhutan.

The success of this lat­est visit was capped by an in­vi­ta­tion to meet se­nior health of­fi­cials from the Bhutanese govern­ment to es­tab­lish a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing. We expect to for­malise the agree­ment this year, which will pro­vide a sup­port­ive frame­work for the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of the project. Weare very much look­ing for­ward to our vis­its in 2013 and 2014.

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