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Healthy to the bone
In the absence of a national action plan on bone disorders, free treatment by international health organisations are a godsend to 2.6 crore Indians suffering from osteoporosis and other ortho ailments.
There was a time when Ratna Banerjee would climb stairs two steps at a time. Today, the 45-year-old cannot even take a single step without wincing. The mother of two grown-up children became almost bed-ridden after she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the hips and legs. The entire family suffered with her and fumbled around to fill in her roles: cooking, buying groceries and managing house help.
Banerjee is just one amongst many Asian women who lose their mobility to bone disorders. According to experts, the number of osteoporosis patients in India stands at roughly 2. 6 crore (2003 figures) and is projected to increase to 3. 6 crore by 2013. And yet India does not have a national action plan on bone health. As a result, lakhs of women with crumbling, porous bones live in pain because their condition is under-diagnosed and under-treated.
Fortunately for Banerjee, she was operated upon at Delhi's GB Pant Hospital and implants were inserted into her spine. She has regained her mobility to some extent but not completely. But not everyone can afford good orthopaedic care. There are many who can't cough up the Rs 1. 5 lakh that a knee replacement can cost. It was to reach out to such under-privileged patients that a team of 50 doctors, nurses, anaesthetists and general physicians in Pune associated with Operation Walk-Chicago took on the task of performing over 60 knee replacement surgeries at Kashibai Navale Medical College and Hospital in Pune district. The 16-year-old non-profit volunteer medical group is on a mission to provide free surgical treatment in developing countries.
A similar effort is on in Nepal. Women Orthopaedist Global Outreach (WOGO), a part of Operation Walk, is performing knee surgeries free of cost in the Himalayan kingdom where 85 per cent of people don't have access to good bone care. Like 53-year-old Ishwori Devkota who struggled to regain mobility after six years of debilitating pain in her back and knees due to arthritis. This September, thanks to WOGO, she had two knee replacement surgeries and within a week, was walking around the hospital, with a cane and a dazzling smile.
However, the mission is not just about free treatment. Dr Robyn Hakanson, a member of WOGO working in Kathmandu, says, "For us, it is also about educating in-country orthopaedic surgeons and healthcare professionals about advanced surgical techniques, disease treatments, and recovery procedures for knee joint conditions."
Orthopaedic surgeons agree that both training and public awareness are inadequate in the face of the problem. But there may be hope, feels Dr Rajesh Malhotra, professor of orthopaedics, AIIMS. "Indian Council for Medical Research has formed a task force on bone health in India and it will surely go a long way in easing the suffering of millions of patients."
In addition, there are corporate initiatives that are addressing this problem. Even as you read this, a Zimmer Mobile Learning Centre van is criss-crossing north and west India to train young orthopaedics. The van is stocked with a mock operation theatre and state of the art technology, which specialises in orthopaedic products and instruments. The mobile learning centre aims to travel over 12, 000 km in 120 days covering 53 cities. The objective is to provide quality care to patients in need of basic ortho-paedic surgeries. The surgeons say advanced orthopaedic care is the need of the hour.
The van also holds interactive sessions with patients to increase awareness on bone health. For instance, at a recent such event, patients from Sangli and Belgaum asked questions about the material used in implants, how long they last, and whether the implants are as good as the original.
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