Leh (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct 9 : Forty-eight-year-old Stanzin Rigzin's left knee-joint has been aching of late, making it difficult for her to walk with ease.
But her village has only a government clinic and no orthopedic expert. So, one morning, she took the first bus from her village in Turtuk, a little over 200 km from Leh, and arrived at the Sonam Norboo Memorial (SNM) Hospital in Leh around 8.30 a.m.
Her only reason for travelling such a distance was to get a chance to consult medical experts from New Delhi's prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences, or AIIMS, who were conducting a week-long camp at the SNM Hospital -- as they have been for a quarter of a century.
"The experts are here so I came early so that I can get good treatment.
I wanted to be among the first to get an early appointment for a medical check-up," Ringin told this visiting IANS correspondent with a smile.
She was quickly examined by a doctor and underwent surgery to relieve her pain.
The camp is organised by Delhi-based Buddhist organisation Ashoka Mission in Leh with experts from the premier referral institute.
At times, the doctors also set up camp in Kargil.
Dr C.S. Yadav, an orthopaedic from AIIMS who has been coming here for the past two decades, said that nothing is more challenging than conducting surgeries at an altitude of 3,500 metres above sea level, where even local residents at times gasp for oxygen.
"I carry around 400-500 kg of instruments and logistics just for the purpose of conducting surgeries.
Due to geographic conditions, the residents, especially women aged above 50, are more prone to health issues related to bones," he added.
Around 24 doctors from different departments visited the camp this year.
However, the camp was reduced to five days owing the to adverse weather conditions. Yet, authorities at SNM Hospital said, more than 2,700 patients had visited the camp.
While the camp earlier had only OPDs, Dr Yadav conducted the first joint replacement in 2013.
Since then, more than 80 surgeries have been successfully completed every year.
"There are, of course, challenges like lack of proper instruments, OT infrastructure and even low oxygen levels.
All this puts extra pressure on us," he noted.
This year, there have been 27 surgeries -- 21 knee and six hip replacements -- Dr Yadav said, adding last year his team had achieved the rare feat of 112 knee and hip replacement surgeries.
"Time was a constraint this year or else we could have done more surgeries.
More than 350 patients were examined in the OPD," Dr Yadav said.
For the locals, the camp is a boon, especially for those living in far-off villages and belonging to the lower economic strata.
Like Rigzin, Abdul Hamid of Alchi village, some 70 km away, visited the camp along with his wife and child.
"The doctors coming here is a blessing for the people of this region.
A majority of these patients cannot afford to visit Delhi. Even at AIIMS, there is a long queue of patients, one has to wait for several days to get a date," said Hamid, who was at the camp for check up in the gastroenterology department.
"Our motive is only to provide as much healthcare as possible to this region.
And what can be better than AIIMS supporting this programme. The patients whose treatment remains pending or any case which is critical is being taken forward on emergency basis at AIIMS in Delhi," Ashoka Mission President Lama Lobzang told IANS.
"We do screening of patients and keep a list of those cases which need to be prioritised.
We have our surgeons and doctors, we discuss on how to carry ahead an OT case and then move forward. The local doctors as well as those from AIIMS make a collective effort so that a majority of the cases are resolved here," SNM Hospital Medical Superintendent Tsering Sanphel told IANS.
(Somrita Ghosh was in Leh on an invitation from AIIMS and Ashoka Mission.
She can be contacted at email@example.com)