95% health coverage but with setbacks

A recent the report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) titled “Situation Analysis Report of Children, Youth and Women in Bhutan” which was launched during the concluding session of the recent 12th Round Table Meeting, shows the country enjoys 95 percent coverage of health services.

However, the UNICEF-Bhutan report also states that despite a high percentage of population that has access to health services, the gaps in the quality of the care still exist.

Speaking at the event, Minister of Work and Human Settlement (MoWHS) Dorji Choden highlighted the setbacks faced by the country on the path to progress. “Ensuring growth with equity while fulfilling the essential needs of people residing in remote, difficult terrains, without losing its rich heritage and human values, is a challenge,” Lyonpo said.

The report reveals that for the prenatal and infant health care, more than one third of child births still take place at homes. “Even those women delivering in a health care facility do not routinely receive postnatal care, and knowledge of newborn danger signs is still low,” it stated.

With regard to child survival, the report states that mortality rate of one third of children aged under-five is steadily declining. Malnutrition is considered responsible for nearly half of all under-five child deaths and food security is found to be still a challenge for many families.

Lyonpo stressed that sustained efforts are needed to keep the reduction of infant and child mortality rates on track if Bhutan is to meet the millennium development goals (MDG), particularly with regard to deaths of newborns.

On mother and child health, the report states that maternal deaths from pregnancy related causes have continued to decline. As reported in the Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS), 2010, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) has declined from 262 per 100,000 live births during the period of 1996-2000 to 146 during the period of 2006-2010.

The report reflected that immunization for childhood diseases is at a very high rate of more than 90 percent indicating that this MDG target has been achieved.

The report also noted that nearly a quarter of the population live below the official poverty line which s is declining but the proportion living in the extreme poverty currently at six percent is going up. It also pointed out regional disparities as people are poorer in the east and south.

On gender equality in education, the report states “Bhutan has achieved the MDG target but inhibiting factors and disincentives still discourage some girls from continuing beyond secondary level schooling.”

With the change in the life styles, high immunization coverage and free medical care, the country has been able to control most of the communicable diseases but on the other hand there has been alarming increase in non-communicable diseases. While HIV and AIDS prevalence is extremely low, new cases are emerging. Currently, a total of 346 cases were detected, including 27 children.

The report found that Bhutanese people have “high access to safe drinking water but discrepancies in functionality for water is an issue and defining ‘adequate coverage’ is troublesome.”

The report recommends that the deployment of more health workers as one of the means to encourage women to use antenatal and postnatal services and to further enhance the delivery of health services.

It also highlighted that sexual health education needs to be integrated and expanded in education.

The report noted that Bhutan has made good progress and achieved many of the MDG targets and is on track to achieve the remaining ones within the timeframe of 2015. “However, concerted effort and attention is needed in the area of malnutrition, gender parity at tertiary level of education, increasing HIV infections and the use of improved sanitation.”

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