Mediclinic supports Global Himalayan Expedition
Posted on 5 July 2018
In 2017, Mediclinic Sandton paediatrician, Dr Graham Jones, was selected as the official team doctor for an expedition to the Himalayas. The mission was to bring solar-powered electricity to one of the most remote villages on earth.
Global Himalayan Expedition
This was the fourth annual expedition for Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), an initiative focused on providing clean energy, education and wireless connectivity to improve the living standards and livelihood opportunities for communities living in the highest reaches of the Himalayas.
Situated in the North Indian region of Ladakh, Shade village is one of coldest and most elevated in the world. The area’s altitude ranges between 3000m to 6000m, with winter temperatures reaching -30° C.
“The region is classed as an arctic desert. There’s nothing but ice and dust. For six or seven months of the year, the area is snowed in and completely cut off. It’s remarkable to realise that people live in that environment,” says Dr Jones.
Even in summer, the village is reached only after several gruelling days of trekking from the nearest road accessible by vehicle.
“In total, we trekked 160 kilometres at an average altitude close to that of Kilimanjaro,” Dr Jones adds.
Mediclinic Sandton and Mediclinic Corporate Marketing partnered with ER24 to sponsor the medical equipment for the expedition.
“When you’re dealing with such a challenging and exposed trip, you really have to be prepared for any kind of scenario,” says Dr Jones. “The Himalayas had its heaviest snowfall in 20 years in 2017, which delayed our trip by a month and created additional challenges during the trek.
“We had to navigate daily rock falls and flash floods. This was particularly challenging because, in some sections, the path was as narrow as the breadth of a person’s foot. This made the risk of a fall quite serious,” he explains.
Thankfully, despite the hazardous conditions, the team suffered no major injuries. Even so, the medical bag was in use every day.
“The main medical issues were muscular skeletal: sprains and strains. One man cut his head and required sutures. And most of the team suffered acute mountain sickness, which is one of the first stages of altitude sickness. This had to be monitored very closely to ensure team members’ conditions didn’t deteriorate as we climbed higher each day.
“On the return trip, we rafted a section of glacial river to save a few days of trekking. Because of the high snowfall, the river was at a 12-year high and it was extremely rough and cold. One raft capsized, and we had three cases of hyperthermia to deal with,” Dr Jones recalls.
Lighting the village
After successfully reaching Shade village, Dr Jones and the rest of the team constructed the solar micro-grids that would light the village for the very first time.
“Solar power brings a range of benefits to these communities, including health benefits. The clean energy replaces kerosene as a fuel for light and cooking, eliminating the chance of serious respiratory health conditions caused by kerosene,” says Dr Jones.
Electrification is also a tool for development and income generation. GHE has created a homestay programme that enables electrified villages to charge trekking tourists a fee for accommodation and for recharging their phones and cameras. This creates a sustainable source of revenue.
For Dr Jones, the expedition had personal benefits too: “As doctors, we can become emotionally drained and risk burnout. “It was incredible to be part of such an unbelievable experience and a mission that resonates deeply with my principles. Knowing that we were able to change lives for the better in such a simple but profound way replenishes my emotional tank.”