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10 breakthrough surgeries
In the course of research for this article on the breathtaking advances India has made in medical surgery — from re-do bypass of the kind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had, to the suspended animation technique used to save the life of an Ahmedabad businessman, or even the small-intestine operation on Amitabh Bachchan — a renowned surgeon said New York comes to New Delhi these days for its heart problems. Many say that’s not an exaggeration. Indian doctors now routinely perform cutting-edge procedures — be it to remove deep tumours in the brain, or to correct malfunction in the femur bone. To represent this great leap in India’s operation theatres, TOI-Crest brings you 10 surgeries that underline both the coming of age of home-grown methods and the sharpness that technology lends to medicine. This is by no means a definitive list; what this story seeks to do is bring you a sense of the exciting work that’s going on
Until a decade back, India's rich and famous bypassed the country if they needed an open heart surgery. And Go-West was the mantra that ruled their minds and guided their health decisions. Be it a liver transplant, facelift or cancer surgery, they were never impressed with desi doctors or infrastructure back home.
But this no longer is the case. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needed a re-do bypass heart surgery - still considered a niche and difficult operation - he chose a home-grown doctor and a public hospital. So did a lakh of other Indians. Ramakant Panda, who operated on the PM, says, "Between January and November 2010, heart surgeons across India performed 97, 000 operations, including bypasses and valve replacements. " In fact, India stands third globally (after the US and China) in the number of heart operations performed each year.
The success story in surgeries is not limited to heart alone - though it is the most illustrative one. Be it surgery for cancer, ophthalmology or bone joints, India's other men - and women - in blue are abreast with the latest in the field. Contemporary designs in joints in the fields of spine and orthopaedics make their Indian debut almost alongside or immediately after they appear on European shelves. Suddenly, the number of medical device companies that are setting up Indian offices has gone up. Be it the Mercedes Benz of the hearing aids segment, Phonak, or St Jude Medical, which has a vast repertoire of devices, many have in recent years put India on their marketing map.
"There is no doubt that Indian surgeons are as good, if not better, than their counterparts in the West in certain fields, " said Dr Rajan Badwe, who heads the country's premier cancer-care hub, Tata Memorial Hospital, in Mumbai. Take the case of oesophageal or head and neck cancers. As India has the largest number of patients in the world suffering from these forms of cancers, its surgeons are versatile in treating them.
What has brought about this change? The medical fraternity gives three reasons. First, the booming economy has resulted in infusion of funds to build infrastructure and there is a healthy readiness to invest in newer technologies. Swank hospitals have sprung up not only in metro cities but also in smaller towns. Many hospitals in metros such as Delhi and Mumbai have placed orders for robotic arms to perform surgeries.
Second, these new healthcare hubs are more often than not manned by doctors who have returned home due to the boom in opportunities.
Third, there also is the matter of skills and expertise. Until 15 years back, Indian hospitals had a mortality of 30 per cent in heart surgeries. Today the figure stands between 3 per cent and 5 per cent - inching closer to the American figure of 2. 7 per cent. Ditto in the field of cancer. "Until the 1990s, pancreatic cancers had a mortality of 20 per cent, but now it is down to 2 per cent, " says Dr P Jagannath, the surgeon who operated on Amitabh Bachchan's diverticulitis (a disease of the small intestine) six years back. He credits this outcome to two factors - the availability of newer technologies that make operations safer for patients and the practise that Indian doctors now get.
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