The nation’s health card

The Prime Minister presented the State of the Nation report to the joint sitting in the National Assembly, a day before the closing session, wherein he talked about the status of health services and facilities and the activities planned for the future in health services.

Lyonchhen said health care in Bhutan is unique and totally free unlike other countries. As of today, he said, there are 25 hospitals; 205 basic health units; 519 out reach clinics; 193 doctors; 799 nurses; 455 health assistants and three referral hospitals in the nation that work hand in hand to provide quality health services.

To further enhance the efficiency in the services the government has decided to grant autonomy to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) and it is expected that the doctors and nurses will use autonomy to improve the standard of the hospital.

The report states that in the face of rising costs, increased expectations and demand for quality health services and dwindling partner resources for health, the provision of free health services for the people is a major challenge. It is said Bhutan is the only country in the world that sends its citizens outside the country for all-paid medical treatment.

Last year, the expense that was incurred to treat about 1,000 patients outside Bhutan amounted to 170mn. Lyonchhen said the government will continue to spend money on referrals and treatments, but he urged the people to be mindful of the expenses, and to take care of their health by exercising, eating nutritious food, drinking moderately and not consuming tobacco.

The PM also highlighted that, as per the statistics, 94% of the population have access to safe drinking water that promotes good health, however, accessibility still remains a problem for many. The health ministry has been instructed to conduct a survey to identify the places, problems and conditions related to access to water in each and every village. The government’s objective is to attempt to provide 24 hours safe drinking water to all the residents in rural and urban areas.

The pressing health issues in Bhutan were highlighted in the report. The Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, cardiovascular, kidney failure, alcohol liver diseases and cancers are on the rise each year. The State of the Nation report states, “The government, as pledged, has conducted a nationwide NCD STEPs Survey and diabetes clinics have been established in all hospitals and BHUs for early detection.NCD screening and awareness camps have also been held.”

The report points to the high cost of treating patients with NCDs, and the implications it has on the quality of life of individuals, families and society at large. It further states, “The government will also establish open air gymnasiums and running clubs. Compared to the lives of our parents, our lives are now more sedentary and less active. It is important for us to take our health seriously and to find the right balance between diet, lifestyle and exercise for a healthier and more holistic living.”

Though the malnutrition indicators, like underweight prevalence and wasting, are seeing an improvement however, the stunting prevalence in children stands at 33.5% and remains as a major public health issue. The prevalence of anaemia in women and children are seen at quite an alarming rate of 54.8% and 80.6% respectively.

While the sporadic outbreaks of vitamin deficiencies, a public health issues since 1998, remains a problem even today. The report states, “While hunger is not a problem in the country, eating the right diet is an issue. The government is making concerted efforts to make nutritious food available and in educating the population on the importance of right eating habits.”

Among other issues, the shortage of human resources in the health ministry was pointed out as one of the challenges. “We are yet to attain the international standards with respect to health HR indicators to ensure top notch quality of care,” the report states. The establishment of University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan represents a major initiative towards providing professional medical education inside the country and, thereby, address the critical shortage of health and allied professionals, the report further stated.

The JDWNRH is also expected to function as a teaching hospital for University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, and the first batch of doctors will start their four-year residency program by next month.

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