At its high altitude training medical training school (HAMTS) in Choglamasar , the Indo Tibetan Border Force (ITBP)’s first women director has now introduced a new lecture on handling psychological changes faces by jawans and intensified practical use of the modern high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPO) bags to all ranks and constabulary on general duty (GD).
HAMTS director 2IC Dr Katyayni Sharma, whose family is based out of Lucknow, is also one of the youngest women chief medical officer (CMO) to be deputed in the North West frontier handling this assignment.
Till last year, HAMTS training only paramedics and nurses in eastern Ladakh to handle altitude-related illnesses.
Just last year, 93 jawans reported hypertension, 26 developed chilblain and 22 had acute mountain sickness.
“For a lot of jawans, deputed for the first time in such high-altitude posts, acclimatisation is a problem. So, I visited border outposts up to 17,000 feet high to find jawans who were facing problems even after medicines were administered. The medicines were offering symptomatic relief but they were still feeling dizzy,” Sharma, institute’s first woman director, ITBP sector headquarter, Ladakh told TOI.
Sharma, who is a mother to a seven-year-old girl, took upon challenges on chin to prepare jawans in a hostile terrain, where heavy snowfall for six months often keeps region out of bounds from road connectivity.
“My daughter and family are still in Lucknow. Video calls are the only way I spoke to my daughter last year. Its natural that I miss them. I hope I am able fulfil my both duties, national and family” said Sharma.
HAPO, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs, accounts for most deaths from high-altitude illnesses among forces.
“The HAPO bag functions on a battery. When a person enters it, it’s like taking a 4,000-feet descent from 16,000 feet. The procedure has to be done fast, with a foot pump that’s pressed about 8 to 20 times, washing out carbon. A descent of 1,500-2,300m is simulated (without any movement). This ensures oxygen is available at increased pressure,” an ITBP technical officer explained. This is practice.
The training with new modules was started in Janury and first batch completed this new training on Monday, coinciding with International Women’s Day.
Now, everyone from constables to inspector-rank officers of general duty (GD) cadre will be trained as well.
“In th new course calendar starting April, we will even include all officers and all cadre (that is assistant commandant rank to DIG Rank) and train them in high altitude disease handling” said Dr Sharma.
The zone has an annual deployment of several thousand ITBP jawans.
There were also cases of udeep vein thrombosis (in which a blood clot forms in a vein deep within the body) and high altitude cerebral edema (in which the brain swells with fluid).
“For these, I ensured the men were taken for physical training on antiemetics (which prevent nausea), analgesics (for pain relief), descent exercise and use of hyperbaric chambers inside bags for low-flow oxygen,” Sharma said.
In fact, high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPO) bags will be handed out across ranks and constabulary on general duty.
“We have always been at the forefront to help our troops and countrymen, whether it’s fighting Covid at Chhawala camp in Delhi, at the Noida hospital or here at our medical training school,” said Lhari Dorjee, IG, North West Frontier, ITBP.