British doctors on Everest mission get bitter dose
Apr 2, 2007 - 10:25:26 AM

Kathmandu, April 2 - A British team of doctors attempting to conduct tests on Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world, had to swallow a bitter dose after the Nepal government said the research was illegal.

The Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine - at the University College London had announced in 2005 that it would lead an expedition to the 8,848 m peak in 2007 to measure the amount of oxygen in their own blood on the summit as well as test how well their brains, lungs and metabolisms functioned at extreme altitude.

Led by CASE director Mike Grocott, the research was intended to find out more about the changes in the human body when it is pushed to its limits during critical illness on the basis of the changes that take place in extreme environments.

The Xtreme Everest Expedition, comprising researchers working in the fields of anaesthesia, intensive care and remote medicine, planned to set up laboratories on Mt Everest as it went higher up, with the final one at South Col, at an altitude of 8,000 m.

An offshoot of the experiment, Project Everest, aimed to recruit over 1,000 volunteers to measure their heart rates and breathing at high altitudes in order to come up with fitness programmes in the future.

The team, also including cardiovascular geneticist Hugh Montgomery, physician Sundeep Dhillon, clinician Roger McMorrow, diving expert Denny Levett and space expert Kevin Fong generated worldwide media hype when it announced its plans in 2005.

However, there was one thing the doctors forgot - to take the permission of the host country.

According to Nirbhay Kumar Sharma, administrative officer of the Nepal Health Research Council, the apex body overseeing all research conducted in the country: 'Whether the research is conducted by Nepalis or non-Nepalis, the council's permission is needed as long as it is conducted on Nepal soil.'

Also, according to Nepal's laws, any research undertaken in Nepal must have at least one Nepali on the research team.

The council became aware of the expedition this year when the Nepali media reported the expedition. Then it sent a letter to Grocott, telling him that he would have to apply for permission first.

'We have now received a letter from the team, apologising for not having contacted us,' Sharma said. 'They have also said they will submit their proposal to us for permission.'

Though Sharma says the expedition is likely to get approval once it submits the required documents and fulfils the criteria, time would become a crucial factor for the researchers.

It might take between one to two months for the council to issue its approval and the extra time could hit climbing plans, which have to be drawn up well in advance.

What is extraordinary is that the team did not make any attempt to find out about the prevailing rules in Nepal though there is a large British Embassy,British Council and British Gurkha centre in Kathmandu.

However, taking advantage of the political instability in Nepal, western adventurers have been known to flout Nepal's laws with impunity.

A French pilot claimed to have made the highest landing on Mt Everest and set a world record even as Nepal's aviation authorities said they had not given him permission for the feat.

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