Stool Antigen Test to detect the presence of Helicobacter pylori (H Pylori) inside the stomach will soon be rolled out to the general public. H pylori is a type of bacteria that infects the stomach lining.
Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said the cancer flagship is targeting three cancers; stomach, cervix and breast cancers because of its high prevalence rate, especially stomach cancer and cervix cancer.
Ministry of Health (MoH) bought the stool antigen test kits as it is said to be 100 percent specific test and about 97 percent sensitive. When a person tests positive on the stool antigen test, the person will be given antibiotics for two weeks, which helps to reduce the chances of getting stomach cancer.
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Dr Sithar Dorjee, said 70 to 80 percent of the population is infected with H-Pylori, as per the population based infection rate. As per the research, the H-pylori strain in Bhutan is mainly the most toxic in the world. There are two cancer causing gene, and Dr Dorjee explained that Lhotshampas are more or less infected with the milder Indian strain, whereas the rest of the population has the more toxic strain of H-pylori.
The health minister said, “We want to educate people on cancer prevention. Secondly, for early detection and to provide adequate treatment on time. And then, if nothing can be done, we want to give palliative care. This has been nationally rolled out in every part of the country.”
The Health Minister said there are many things to do in the health system, but due to COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of time has been wasted. So currently, MoH is providing cancer screening, as most of the people are not aware about it.
A person who suffers from cancer, and by the time they visit hospitals for treatment, they are already too late, said the Health Minister.
MoH is providing endoscopy in some of the dzongkhags so that the patients need not have to travel all the way to Thimphu. An endoscopy screening for all the eligible population of Bumthang was conducted earlier this week.
“We believe that for a better tomorrow, we must have a healthy citizen today. We want to deliver health care in every aspects and not wait for the sick, and we want to deliver health services, and this is putting the patient in the front,” said Lyonpo Dasho Dechen Wangmo.
In efforts to bring other health services to the people, MoH carried out 102 cataract surgeries on patients in their respective dzongkhags. The Health Minister shared a story of a 70-year-old cataract patient, who was relieved and happy to undergo the surgery to have her vision restored. And the best part is that the old woman did not have to travel all the way to Thimphu or to a bigger hospital because the service was brought to her.
Lyonpo said there is a need to change the term of reference of the health workers. If there are two health assistants in a BHU, then one can stay back and one can go around in the community.