Doctors remove large thyroid growths from Melghat tribals

Live relay of surgeries from a remote hospital organised for 100 London doctors

For long, the massive enlarged thyroid glands among the Korku tribals living in Amravati’s Melghat region have puzzled doctors. Doctors would see Korkus, mainly women, with these abnormal growths, known as goitre, weighing over one to two kilograms. An annual surgery camp held at a remote hospital in Chikhaldara has however changed that. While goitre remains prevalent, doctors now see smaller growths in the tribe.

At the 19th annual camp held early this month, 16 people from the tribe — 13 women and three men — underwent goitre surgeries. “Earlier we would see exceptionally large growths. That has changed over the past three to four years,” said ENT surgeon Dr. Madan Kapre who operated on four of the 16 patients.

“Lack of adequate medical attention is the main problem. They would seek medical help only when it became difficult to function with the growth on the neck,” Dr. Kapre, who is also the founding president of Indian Society of Thyroid Surgeons, said. He said the annual camp brings senior specialists closer to the patients instead of the patients travelling for treatment.

Iodine deficiency is known as the common cause of goitre. But the staple diet of Korkus is fish, a rich source of iodine, and there is availability of iodised salt too. “We believe there are genetic factors at play,” Dr. Kapre said.

The recent camp was unique in many ways. A live relay of the surgeries was organised for over 100 doctors at St Mary’s Hospital in London. “Prof Neil Tolley of Imperial College, London, had visited us two years ago and he was impressed with our surgeries carried out with minimum facilities. It was his idea to have a live broadcast,” Dr. Kapre said, adding besides the large size of glands, the London doctors were exposed to a unique technique of anesthesia.

Lack of reliable internet network posed a challenge for the live transmission. However, a company called Valuable Edutainment helped in the transmission using its V-SATs.

Head and neck surgeon Dr. Abhishek Vaidya, who operated on two of the 16 patients, said the operation theatre in the rural hospital was built in 1994 by the Rotary Club of Nagpur South that organises the camp. “Such large size goitres are only seen in textbooks by most. The thyroid gland is beneath the adam’s apple and it should be imperceptible. But in these cases, the enlargement is much bigger than the size of a lemon,” Dr. Vaidya said, adding the average growth seen was 6x4cm.

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