It is an old saying that ‘Health is Wealth’ but too often this adage is forgotten in Bhutan where there is an increase in the number of various diseases both in the lifestyle and communicable category.
The sad reality is that most of them especially lifestyle diseases can be prevented with a good diet and timely exercise.
Medical research also shows that a healthy diet and exercise also helps beat or reduce the severity of various communicable diseases.
The increase in lifestyle diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, stress, heart problems in Bhutan is a sign that our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, rich diet, junk food consumption and couch potato weekends are taking a terrible toll.
The problem has reached such proportions that many Bhutanese families have one or more family members suffering from lifestyle diseases.
There is also a rise in the number of patients suffering from communicable diseases with a rising number of Bhutanese afflicted with HIV and Hepatitis-B both of which can be transmitted through blood transfusion, sharing needles and also unprotected sex. Simple precautions like practicing safe sex and not sharing needles will go a long way in controlling the numbers.
There are also signs that Bhutanese citizens going outside the country for major operations or organ transplant should be careful of Hepatitis-C which is primarily transmitted through infected donor organs or blood. Bhutanese patients should either take treatment in Bhutan or use only top class services in other countries for major invasive surgery procedures or for blood transfusion to prevent Hepatitis C.
There is also a visible rise in the number of cancer cases in Bhutan. International research has shown that avoiding alcohol, tobacco in any form, limiting red meat consumption, limiting junk food consumption, having a healthy diet and exercise considerably reduces the chances of having cancer. Unfortunately in Bhutan there are many families with a member or more suffering from cancer. The MoH with international support must work towards finding out the causes of the higher than normal prevalence of cancer among Bhutanese citizens and take appropriate measures.
Apart from maintaining a healthy lifestyle it is important that Bhutanese citizens should go for a regular check up of their blood, vital signs and organs. It is also important that people get the right vaccinations and also ensure their children are protected. In many cases it is early detection of various ailments and appropriate lifestyle changes and treatment that considerably increases the chances of recovery for both lifestyle and communicable diseases.
The government and the Ministry of Health must take strong and long term actions on the above issues and at the same time the public must support it for the sake of the nation’s collective health. Regular awareness campaigns must be conducted, state of the art medical infrastructure has to be set up and patients have to be given good care.
In spite of a few vested voices calling for the privatization of health services the government must continue to play a key role and provide necessary funding. In that sense the role of the government, MoH and especially medical professionals must be appreciated for providing free and reasonably good public healthcare.
It must be remembered that one of the main evidences of the presence of GNH in Bhutan is a sound, strong and free medical system despite the minor glitches.
The government’s efforts to curb junk food, alcohol consumption and tobacco must be strongly supported as long as it does not criminalize consumers but gives them enough incentives to stay away by the way of awareness campaigns, taxes and monetary fines.