Mothering Nubra Valley
Dr. Nordan Otzer has dedicated his life to preventing cancer in Ladakh
It was while working in a hospital in Tamil Nadu right after graduating with an MBBS degree that Dr. Nordan Otzer had to immediately return home to Nubra Valley in Ladakh. His mother had cervical cancer which had spread to her lungs and within a month, she had passed away. For someone who wished to study and settle down abroad as a doctor, this incident forever changed the way Dr. Otzer looked at his own life. “Once I spent enough time back in my hometown, I felt that there was not enough awareness amongst the people about women’s health,” he says. “Which is why I started visiting villages in and around Nubra Valley and in time, I was able to cover all the villages about 40 of them. I spoke to the women in these villages. Even though they seemed to be shy about the fact that I was talking about breast cancer and cervical cancer, from the look in their eyes I was able to make sure that they feel content that somebody is actually tackling these issues, that somebody is talking about these so-called taboos.”
Along with these awareness campaigns, he also began conducting screening camps for cervical cancer, which would focus on looking for pre-cancer symptoms in the women in these villages. With the help of a couple of friends, in 2009, Dr. Otzer was able to bring over doctors from Singapore to conduct these screenings and help in the monitoring processes. The turnout at these screenings was unparalleled: around 2,000 women turned up for the process. “Since 2009, we have been conducted these screenings on a yearly basis, with the help of the local doctors as well, and so far we have been able to screen around 10,000 women from all the villages,” says Dr. Otzer. Around 10 percent of the women screened had signs of pre-cancer symptoms.
“I lost my mother at a young age. I am happy I was able to save thousands of families from my own village from losing their own mothers.”Dr Nordan Otzer Cancer crusader
This means that had it not been for the screenings, they would have died of cancer. Over the years, Dr. Otzer has been involved in a lot of socially- committed activities, such as the Anti- Tobacco Movement; the movement focuses on holding awareness camps to discourage young adults in the villages from using tobacco products and making them aware about the harmful effects of tobacco on their bodies. His work has contributed significantly to making Nubra Valley a tobacco-free district today.
He is also the man behind the Healthy Ladakh Movement. Working alongside the women’s wing of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, Dr. Otzer and his team visited more than 200 villages in and around Ladakh, specifically Sham, Leh, Changthang and Zanskar region, talking about tobacco and alcohol addiction. Apart from his work with cancer awareness, Dr. Otzer likes to spend his time traveling to villages and trekking. He also enjoys writing, specifically in his regional language. “I write about the folk songs, folk stories, and legends, stories which until my parents’ generation was passed down orally. But now it is not so anymore with the advent of technology. So, my attempt is to preserve this tradition,” he explains.
Currently, he is aiming to launch his latest project, the Healthy Liver Project. “Hepatitis B is very common in the Himalayan belt, extending from Ladakh to Oriental countries,” he elaborates. “Every year, people are dying due to liver cancer and liver failure, which is caused by Hepatitis B. The project is called Healthy Liver Project as I am including everything that concerns the liver to make sure that there will be a high turnout of people. By saying just Hepatitis B, which does not have very clear symptoms, more lives can be saved.”
“I lost my mother at a young age and in a family, the mother is like a pillar. And when you don’t have a mother around, basically it’s not a meaningful life that you lead. So, I was just happy that I was able to save thousands of families from losing their mothers, right from my own village,” says Dr. Otzer, on what motivated him to be a change-maker.