One half day per month, the doctors at Tibetan Delek Hospital volunteer in the Dharamsala slums via Tong-Len, a volunteer organization that aims to improve living conditions of misplaced families who inhabit the slums
I wish I could say that I finished the day fulfilled and feeling like I’d made a difference, but that was definitely not the case. We did not have much of an idea what we were in for when the wonderful staff of Tong Len picked us up. When we arrived, we found that the local “tavern” (aka drinking tent) had been tidied up for us to use as our clinic away from home.
All medications could be dispensed on site without the need for a prescription. We could not do any blood tests or advanced examinations, instead we recommended that the patients visit the local hospital for testing for things like tuberculosis. Two local men translated for us and the patients formed a small mob waiting to be seen.
We did out best with few resources and shoddy translation to diagnose and treat patients appropriately. It seemed like the patients had one of two complaints – back/body pain, or stomach pain. Both are incredibly nonspecific and usually fairly harmless as long as other “warning signs” are not present.” We treated them diclofenac gel (topical ibuprofen) or albendazole (de-worming medication) or a proton pump inhibitor (like Prilosec). In the words of one of the docs, “Given the living conditions, they probably all have worms.”
It seemed that some patients knew what medicine they needed before I even saw them. I asked the nurse running the clinic about this, and she said “Oh, they come every month with the same complaint. If they don’t get a medicine, they think the doctor is rubbish and go see someone else.” It’s unclear whether people even take the medicines, or if there is a stockpile hidden somewhere.
Overall, it was very eye-opening to see the conditions of the Dharamsala slums and to see some of the good that Tong-Len is able to do. They run a tent school where children receive instruction in English, Hindi, and mathematics and they also started a fresh fruit and vegetable stand next door.