The Ministry of Health (MoH) has set goals to eliminate four diseases; Malaria, Tuberculosis (TB), Cervical Cancer and Vertical Transmission of HIV in Bhutan.
Within 11 months, Bhutan targets to eliminate Malaria. Globally the elimination of TB was set at 2030 but MoH targets to eliminate TB by 2020. Likewise, in terms of vertical transmission of HIV, the ministry aims to achieve the goal by 2020.
Health Minister, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, said that the focus is on the three diseases because they are preventable, and if caught – it is curable and it is also treatable. Moreover, she said that the said diseases elimination is doable and requires a little extra push to achieve the goals.
Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said intensification of efforts need to be in place to achieve the targets. She said that mosquitoes do not require passports or visa to come to Bhutan. No matter how hard Bhutan works, it is hard to achieve the elimination without the intervention from cross border towns and settlements.
“This is why a cross border dialogue on eliminating Malaria will soon take place in Gelephu, and it is the first of its kind in the country. We have a team from global fund that funds all our HIV, TB and Malaria programs,” she added.
In addition, she said that 8 countries took part in a Malaria conference held in Paro and they have discussed collectively on how they can achieve the elimination of Malaria in the South East Asia region.
The Maldives and Sri Lanka has already achieved the elimination, and Bhutan is now hoping to be on the same path. “But Bhutan has a very porous border, and therefore, we want to work together with the region to achieve the elimination before targeted period,” she added.
Lyonpo also said that they are intensifying in eliminating the vertical transmission of HIV, which is basically the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Lyonpo said it is unacceptable for a child to be born with HIV in Bhutan.
“Every pregnant mother in Bhutan will get HIV testing, Syphilis and Hepatitis. So we want to eliminate all the three diseases at one go,” she added.
“TB, of course, is the same, if you have TB you will come to hospital and can be cured, it is not a lifelong disease. But we want them to come to health facility to seek treatment. Also at a same time we are doing lots of outreach to get this TB positive in the main stream health services,” she added.
In case of TB, Lyonpo said that a single untreated TB patient in a population has the potential to infect 10 more, and that way if they are treating 10 TB patients then they are saving 100 lives. Therefore, these are the diseases that have lot of long term affect and these are the diseases which affects the productive group of the population (20 to 40 years of age).
“If we can intervene then I think we are really helping our productive population to achieve their economic potential,” she added.
Meanwhile, she said that securing the budget could be one of the potential challenges while working towards the elimination of the diseases. “For a small nation and with a small budget, 3.4 percent of the GDP, which is one of the lowest in the world for allocation of health, would be difficult. Not to have access to resources is challenging because the last mile requires lots of resources,” she added.
She also said that they looking into a human development plan so that they can envision in the next ten years and have adequate manpower which is challenging at some proportion.
The Regional Director (RD), South East Asia Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO), congratulated the government on achieving the 2020 control target of ‘less than or equal to 1’ hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) sero-prevalence among children aged 5 years.
The RD said that MoH has been accorded with the achievement after due verification by the ‘WHO SEAR Expert Panel for Verification of Hepatitis B Control’ upon careful review of the evidence provided in its second consultation held in June 2019.
RD said, “RGoB is one of the first four countries in the region to reach the 2020 target ahead of time. The achievement is a due result of the strong leadership of the government, the commitment of the healthcare workers and volunteers in sustaining a strong routine immunization system and enhancing access to vaccination services.”