Investigative stories on corruption in health, medical malpractice and COVID from 2012 to 2022

The launch issue of 21 February 2012 also followed up on a series of investigative stories done by the writer on corruption in procurement in the Health Ministry when the writer was in Kuensel in 2009 which also resulted in ACC investigations and prosecution by the OAG.

The issue also had a story on a Mongar Assistant Engineer who was charged for corruption in seven construction projects including a new BHU that collapsed in the September 2009 quake.

In the third issue on 29 February 2012, we followed up on the medical bills scam in Bangkok where the Head of Chancery Chenda Tobgye could not account for Nu 18 mn in unpaid bills to various hospitals there for patients sent by the government.

This story was first reported by this writer as the News Editor while in Business Bhutan in 2010 and the follow up story asked why the ACC was not taking up the case for investigation though it was sent to them in November end 2011.

The ACC investigated the case and it eventually resulted in the conviction of the accused.

This issue also took up the sensitive issue of Christians unable to get official burial sites.

This issue also pointed out how 66 Orong Higher Secondary School Students had withdrawn after the two deaths due to poor nutrition in the school earlier.

The 1 September 2012 issue story showed how a 73-year-old woman, Dorji Lham, who became unconscious on the dentist’s chair, while two dentists were trying to extract her teeth, negligently stashed her in a filthy emergency room with no one to attend to her.

It was only when the daughter came that she noticed her in a critical condition with her breath slipping away, but despite she pleading with multiple nurses they did not help her saying she was not their patient. One mistake made by the dentists was in not checking her blood pressure as she was a high BP patient.

The 11 October 2012 issue carried a story on how a Cerebral Palsy boy choked to death in Draktsho Vocational Training Center on a meatball. The parents said that if the boy had been taken to the hospital earlier he may have survived.

The 13 October 2012 issue had a story on how a routine surgery had gone wrong on three-year-old Sonam Peldon when she was nine months old resulted in her becoming Paralyzed. 

In 18 October 2012 the paper carried the story of how a Dzongkha teacher at Budhashi Community School used the same syringe to inject multiple students from PP to class VI over a period of time in order to discipline them. As a result of the story by this paper the Ministry of Education launched its own investigation which led to his compulsory retirement.

On 1 November 2012, the paper carried a story on how expired drugs were being given by government hospitals and pharmacies.

In 10 November 2012 through the story of one mental patient Kali Maya we showed how in the absence of a mental asylum in the country, agencies do not know where to keep or send mental patients out in the streets or elsewhere.

In the 20 April 2013 issue the paper brought to light the fact that the only two machines in JDWNRH and Phuentsholing hospital that can monitor if the white blood cells of HIV patients fall below 300 are broken down and so HIV patients were suffering.

A patient said that with the test HIV patients know their white blood cells are falling and so they take anti retro viral drugs to kill the HIV virus. Otherwise if the white blood cell count is too low then they can succumb to AIDS and even a common cold can be lethal. He said without the machines many HIV patients are suffering quietly and their health is in danger.

On 31 December 2016, this paper did an investigative story on how there is an increasing trend of putting in underage children to school, some as young as four, and how it results in humiliation and beatings for children.

On 6 July 2019 the paper asked who is accountable for the various construction lapses in the Gelephu hospital where a new hospital was already falling apart and had a lot of flaws.

The Health Secretary pointed to the consultant designer Lama Consultancy for design flaws, the project team of MoH for poor monitoring and the Construction Company of Mindu Pvt Ltd.

COVID-19

From early January 2020 itself, this paper was the first to start giving daily statistics of the spread of COVID-19 around the world and information on the virus on its official social media handles. The paper was accused of fear mongering by some on social media, but it carried on nevertheless.

On 1 February 2020, the paper carried stories about many Bhutanese calling for a travel ban on Chinese tourists and the paper in its editorial asked the government to take measures as the tourism season was starting and the virus was spreading in China.

It followed up with another story on 8 February listing out how many tourists entered Bhutan and asking the MoH about its preparedness on if the virus enters Bhutan.

The the 7 March 2020 issue was after a 76-year-old American had tested positive for COVID-19 on March 5 as Bhutan’s first COVID-19 case. The paper asked the PM why tourism was not closed down earlier pointing out 5,784 tourists entered Bhutan from January to 6th March.

The PM said 50,000 livelihoods would be hit.

On 21 March 2020, the paper highlighted the case of a Hong Kong tourist who had been in Bhutan testing positive when he was back in Hong Kong.

In 4 April 2020 the Editorial of the paper said the government should not have followed the late guidance from WHO which said on 14 January 2020 there is no human to human transmission quoting Chinese authorities and only declaring the Pandemic on 11 March after it spread to more than 100 countries.

The same issue also called upon the government to urge the wearing of facemasks as at the time the government was only advocating hand washing and social distance of 1 meter and it recommended masks only for health workers and symptomatic people based on slow moving WHO advice.

On 9 May 2020 the paper reported on the fact that a Jomotsangkha case is probably Bhutan’s first community transmission or local case as the person had COVID-19 and developed antibodies.

The paper in the 13 June 2020 issue pointed to a lot of scientific data on the COVID-19 virus being airborne and the need to improve ventilation and enforce mask wearing.

In 11 August 2020, the nation went into lockdown after a 27-year-old lady from Sershong tested positive again after quarantine, but the real threat came from a spate of cases in Phuentsholing among its loaders.

The issue in 29 August 2020 looked at what went wrong and how the virus entered and spread in Phuentsholing. It noted the high number of cases in the MDP and showed how the protocols not being followed strictly there led to the virus entering from there and spreading.

The story also raised the ambivalent attitude of the government to face masks right from the first case in March 2020 even advocating against it for a while. This is despite the paper laying out the scientific benefits of facemasks. On 19 June 2020 the PM asked people to wear masks while a 9 July 2020 MoH circular said it is compulsory, but even then there were large official gatherings where the majority did not wear masks.

The paper also noted the large numbers of cases in DANTAK in Phuentsholing.

On 12 September 2020 after the lockdown was lifted the PM assured there will be smart lockdowns henceforth.

The same issue also carried a story of how the PM stayed in his office away from his family during the lockdown and slept on a windowsill. The story was widely picked up by international media outlets.

On 5 December 2020, the paper did a story to show how Bhutan is one of the handful countries in the world yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In 30 January 2021 the paper brought out cases of COVID-19 patients suffering from long COVID and also how three patients who died just after clearing COVID-19 were not classified as COVID deaths.

On 19th June 2021 this paper did an investigative story on how massive and uncontrollable tobacco smuggling is likely to bring in COVID. In the same month the Parliament legalized the import and sale of tobacco.

From the 27 November 2021 issue onwards the paper did a series of story on the dangers of Omicron and how it could threaten Bhutan.

In the 5 February 2022 issue, the paper brought out details on the death of a 34-year-old Kidney patient Sostika Gurung in a hotel room despite her husband calling the nurse on duty and for an ambulance. The Medical Council has decided to investigate the case.

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