Matiram Pun: Mountain medicine – pilgrims, research, and peace

Matiram PunWith the world’s media reporting about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the first congress of the Asia-Pacific Society of Mountain Medicine (APSMM) took place in Delhi on 28-30 November. The society was founded a year ago, and the congress was attended by scientists from the region. The theme of the congress was “Life and Living in High Mountains.”

The society, scientific interaction, and research in mountain medicine and high altitude physiology have long been needed in the region. On 12 September 2003, the Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN) was established. It was inspired and led by a mountain medicine and travel medicine expert, Dr Buddha Basnyat, and aims to especially to encourage and involve young doctors, clinicians, and medical students in research from Nepal. The society has worked in close association with the Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal (HRA) [] to organize health camps, find volunteer doctors for HRA high altitude medical aid posts, carry out rescue operations, and conduct research in the Nepal Himalayas from the very beginning.
MMSN is a national mountain medicine society and affiliated to the International Society of Mountain Medicine (ISMM); however, it has worked extensively in the entire region to bring scientists together and organize regional programmes, mountain medicine workshops, and seminars. Scientists from India, Pakistan, and Nepal participated in two of its seminars in 2004 and 2007. Organizations such as the BP Koirala India-Nepal Foundation (BPKF) and HRA have helped organize these seminars.

The Himalayan stretches of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan have long been a destination for trekkers, expeditions, pilgrimages, and medical and physiological researchers – for example, Caudwell Xtreme Everest. People have lived there for centuries. A different population group away from the mainstream consists of pilgrims [Basnyat B. Pilgrimage Medicine. BMJ 2002;324:745 and Basnyat B. The Pilgrim at Altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 2006 Fall;7(3):183-4. There are numerous sacred lakes in the Nepal Himalayas, where pilgrims gather in large numbers each year. Dr Basnyat spoke on this topic at the congress in Delhi.

Newer societies such as APSMM should encourage young scientists to participate in the congress, seminars, and workshops and seek to involve them in research and publications. While people such as the BMJ’s editor, Fiona Godlee, are contemplating who should do research and how it should be fostered in the developing world (read also Walgate R. Developing countries should have a greater say in local research agendas. BMJ 2008;337:a2713), such societies can have a vital role in collaboration with other international societies—such as ISMM and the International Hypoxia Symposia, the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS), and Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA).

I believe that such conferences and seminars benefit peace and stability in the region. While India and Pakistan both are nuclear powers and China’s economy is booming, we have seen repeated turbulence in the region. Academic and research organizations such as MMSN and APSMM will be bringing scientists and intellectuals together – regardless of their country, religion, and ethnicity – which will help stabilize the region. Therefore, societies with the same agenda, their workshops and seminars, and participation from all countries are extremely important.

Competing interests: Matiram Pun is currently working as the secretary of the Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN) and was closely involved with the first congress of APSMM, to ensure Nepalese doctors’ participation.