In April 2012 I visited Namche Bazaar several times while trekking in the region. During these visits both of our porters utilized the Namche Dental Clinic. I met the dentist at our hotel and decided to see what kind of clinic she could be operating in a remote area like this at an elevation over 11,000 feet. While I was visiting the clinic, a woman in her late 40's or early 50's came in with two abscessed teeth. Watching Nawang work on this woman was amazing. It was probably the woman's first visit to a dentist in her life. Yet, after about 15 minutes, the lady left (minus the two teeth) but trying to smile.
This clinic is the only dental clinic in the Sagramatha National Park / Khumbu Valley / Mt. Everest region. This is an area in excess of 1150 square kilometers. Not only are there over 130,000 residents in the Khumbu Valley is visited by more than 35,000 visitors annually, and the number of visitors is growing significantly each year. All these people are currently serviced by only one dentist, Nawang at the Namche Dental Clinic. It is not unusual for patients to walk 4-5 days to reach this clinic for dental work.
The American Himalayan Foundation has done a great job in supporting this clinic and keeping it operating for over 20 years, but it is time for a complete replacement of equipment to bring it up to modern standards.
HISTORY OF THE CLINIC
One day in 1981, a Sherpa woman and her little boy from a village high in the Himalayas showed up with two mouthfuls of cavities. "The boy was 7. He had numerous decayed teeth. His mother had seven decayed teeth. Hollander knew more than a little about oral hygiene in poor countries, having worked once for a volunteer program called Dental Health International in Cameroon, West Africa. So he and a friend traveled to the boy's village, Namche Bazaar, and surveyed the oral health of the local children. They visited two schools, shone flashlights in the youngsters mouths and just looked around. "You could just see holes," he said. In one school, 76 percent of the youngsters had cavities. In another, 56 percent did. The reason was clear: Candy from the West.
Dr Hollander found that Sherpa children on the Everest trail had four times the degree of dental decay than children off the trekking trail. The Sherpa men had gotten into the business of hauling provisions on their backs and by yak. The Sherpa women set up and operated guest houses where the travelers could sleep. They also stocked stores that catered to the Western appetites and the sweet tooth’s of trekkers weary of bland trail cuisine. These trekkers couldn't resist the smiles of the Nepalese children and many cavy them sweet snacks which they could not afford to buy. The results were mouthfuls of cavities.
Dr. Hollander’s dream of a modern dental clinic in Namche Bazaar became a practical possibility when the town received electricity from the hydro plant at Thamo. A location was found and a building was constructed for the clinic. The building was paid for by the Everest Marathon Fund and the American Himalayan Foundation, Brian installed modern equipment (most donated by a Rotary Club from Oregon). and the clinic opened in February 1991.
The growth in tourism that followed the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 spawned an economic boom in that village of 1,000 people, the last outpost along the trekking route to great peak. In the last 59 years the permanent population of Namche has almost doubled. New construction is now almost constant in the summer months. Every year there are more bakeries and stores selling sweets.
This year over 35,000 trekkers will pass through Namche and the numbers are increasing significantly each year. Most trekkers spend at least 2 nights in Namche on their way up the mountains and one more night here on their way back down. The town is now not only filled with lodges & guest houses, but it has numerous independent restaurants, bakeries, groceries and even pubs.
To address the problem of preventing dental decay and gum disease, Brian initiated a school dental health program in 7 Khumbu schools in May 1994 and this is now operating in 11 schools. The program involved the supervision by teachers of daily oral hygiene procedures, the administration of fluoride to combat decay and coating secondary molars with sealant. There has been a significant reduction in dental decay. Until 1998 this school program, which cost $2,200 per year, was financed by the Everest Marathon Fund. Sadly, this outreach program is only still effective in the schools in Namche. With only one dentist, there is no time for anyone to travel to other schools in the region and make sure the children are being properly trained.
According to the Everest Marathon Website page on the dental clinic, "the number of patients is gradually increasing but the clinic is far from being financially self-sufficient. The American Himalayan Foundation pays salaries but money is required for building repairs, new and replacement equipment, expendable dental supplies and travel expenses to other villages and Kathmandu."
Since autumn 1998 the Everest Marathon Fund has paid for several building improvements. The treatment rooms have been moved upstairs where a huge skylight and secondary windows have greatly improved the heat and light. An electric geyser was installed to provide hot water, solar panels for room heating and a water distiller. The building also required a new roof and compound walls. To attract more donors and patients, Nawang produced a small leaflet in English and Nepali.
In 1999 a second dentist started training to work in the Namche Dental Clinic. He attended a dental school in Fiji for 3 years. He then worked for more than 2 years as an unpaid internee at the National Dental Hospital in Kathmandu before his qualification was approved by the Nepal Medical Council in November 2005. The Everest Marathon Fund paid for his tuition, traveling costs and living expenses, and his salary when he finally returned to the Namche Dental Clinic. Unfortunately, after a short stint in Namche, he moved on leaving the clinic again with only one dentist. Now that training facilities are available in Kathmandu, there has been talk of training another dental therapist.
this equipment has been there since Brian established the clinic. Time and thousands of patients have taken their toll and now the clinic desperately needs upgraded.
NOTE: A new Swiss supported dental clinic is coming to Lukla, but with a dentist in training now, it will be 3-5 years before this clinic is fully operational and capable of picking up some of the workload.
NAMCHE BAZAR INFORMATION
Namche Bazaar is located at 3440 m and is the main gateway to Mount Everest Base Camp. It is the administrative centre for the Khumbu region and has a police check post, the headquarters for Sagarmatha National Park.
It is the location of the world's highest dental clinic and also the weekly Saturday Market. Namche Bazaar also has most facilities of a major city such as post office, a medical center, cyber cafés, visitor information center, pool houses, bars, grocery shops, bakeries and many souvenir shops. There is also a Sherpa museum established by a local entrepreneur.
Historically, Sherpas were herders and traders. Namche Bazaar was the staging point for trading over the Nangpa La into Tibet with loads of manufacture goods from India. Trekkers are advised to spend at least one day acclimatizing before proceeding to higher destinations.
WHERE TO STAY IF YOU ARE VISITING NAMCHE
Khumbu Lodge: For me, the obvious choice is the KHUMBU LODGE. This was good enough for President & Mrs. Jimmy Carter and numerous other famous visitors to Namche Bazaar. Additionally, it is the lodge and restaurant operated by Nawang Doka Sherpa’s family. You can find Nawang supervising the kitchen/restaurant daily from 6:30 am until late at night daily (except for the hours she is up the hill working at the dental clinic).
Khumbu Lodge, the oldest family run hotel that is situated in the heart of Namche Bazar, the hub of Khumbu region. Ever since it was established in 1975, it has become quite synonymous with the trekkers and climbers and has been successful in setting a superior standard of hospitality service in Namche under one roof.
Recently Khumbu Lodge extended its new wing with additional 20 rooms with attached bathroom on top of 26 private rooms. Room prices range from Rs 200 (about $2.50) for a room with a community toilet on the same floor to $25 for a room with an attached bathroom.
Khumbu Lodge has its own history and reputation from its past successful years that can be seen on the corridor of lodge hanging on the walls. Because of its friendly service and history for serving more than 3 decade, this lodge is very popular for free independent travelers (FIT).
The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is famous because Solu Khumbu region is the land of spectacular mountains that holds the world’s ten highest peaks including Mt. Everest the world’s highest peak (8848m.), "SAGARMATHA” in Nepali-“Higher than the sky” and “CHHOMOLUNGMA” in Sherpa “Mother Goddess of the Earth”. Solu Khumbu is justifiable famous, not only for its proximity to the world’s highest mountain but also for sweeping glaciers, magnificent mountains, forests, animals, birds, monasteries and is the home of the world famous Sherpa people. Khumbu region lies inside Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer zone that is rich flora and faunas but the existence of the Yeti remains a mystery.
Khumbu region inside Sagarmatha National Park is famous for trekking and mountaineering since the first attempt of Mt. Everest in 1953 by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary and is equally important for trekking that combines the classic close up views of Everest, dazzling Gokyo lakes and stunning high Himalayan Panorama and to observe the natural and cultural heritage of the Sherpa land.
Sagarmatha National Park
Sagarmatha National Park (1,148 sq. km), established in 1976, is located in the Khumbu region for the protection of its unique natural landscape containing the world's highest mountain of Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) at 8,850m. above sea level. It encompasses major Himalayan ecosystem and shares boundary with Makalu-Barun National Park in the east, and Qomolungma Nature Preserve of Tibet Autonomous Region towards north.
Most of the Park is steep and rugged, the terrain broken by deep gorges and glacial valleys, but in its major valleys, there are some relatively flat areas, which are used for growing crop and grazing by the Sherpa community. These village area are officially excluded from the Park and do not come under its authority.
UNESCO declared this National Park a World Heritage Natural Site in 1979 in recognition of the significance, of the World's highest mountain, its sub alpine types of flora and fauna, together with the unique cultural heritage of the Sherpa people who are the local residents.
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· VIA LUKLA: Regular flights from Kathmandu to Lukla take about 30-45 minutes. From Lukla it takes roughly two days to arrive at Namche The first day walk from Lukla to either Phakding or Monjo is roughly a three hour strenuous hike. The second day walk from Phakding to Namche is a bit more strenuous and it takes about five hours. All foreign nationals must stop at the Sagarmatha National Park entrance just past Monjo and get a Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) Registration Card and pay a small fee.
o HELICOPTER: Chartered helicopter takes about an hour from Kathmandu direct to Namche. The helipad used is on the opposite side of Namche from the dental clinic. Visitors arriving by helicopter to visit the clinic should be prepared for a 30+ minute walk. Due to the thin air at this elevation, the climb from the village to the clinic might make this walk considerably longer.
o STOL AIRFIELD: The Short Take Off & Landing (STOL) airfield is located about 300 meters elevation above downtown Namche. It is an uncontrolled airfield that is serviced by charter STOL aircraft and helicopters. Airfield is reported to be only 1330' x 98', but as an airfield specialist it looked longer than that to me. (more photos available on request). It is a 1+ hour strenuous walk from Namche proper. The walk from the airfield to Namche is all downhill and takes only 20-40 minutes depending on your walking speed. The hill is steep, so a walking stick (or two) would be recommended for those not used to trekking in the mountains.
WHAT IS NEEDED
Due to the lack of a second dentist, no one is available to travel to schools outside of Namche without closing the clinic. Therefore, this outreach program is only being conducted in the Namche school. And even in Namche the clinic should have annual supplies of tooth brushes and fluoride.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?