His Majesty the King awarded the National Order of Merit (Gold) to Dr Samlee Plainbangchang, the outgoing Regional Director of WHO (World Health Organization), South East Asia Region on December 3
The award was presented during his farewell visit to Bhutan from December 1 to 4 as recognition of his contributions towards improving health services in Bhutan.
Dr Samlee began his WHO career as a medical officer in Bhutan in 1984, and subsequently he held several high positions at the WHO. He will be retiring in January next year after 10 years in office as Regional Director.
Speaking to local reporters, Dr Samlee who was proud to be a recipient of the medal said, “Through my work in WHO, I am very proud that I have done something and I have left something at the country level.”
On the people’s health status, he said Bhutan has come a long way in the last three decades. He noted that diseases like ones caused due to indoor pollution, poor sanitation, lack of safe water and environmental deterioration has decreased.
In order to provide maximum benefit from health services he said, “We need doctors, but not many. One of the challenges for Bhutan is to rationalize the use of doctors and health workers in order to maximize the benefit of health services.”
The health ministry (MoH) has been functioning closely under Dr Samlee’s leadership which helped a lot in achieving several milestones, in terms of public health across the country. While in office as a Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, he has also rendered support for developing a National Health Policy that shaped the health sector.
He also assisted institutional capacity development for the health sector, including the Royal Institute of Health Sciences, the Public Health Laboratory and the Institute of Traditional Medicines. He was also instrumental in introducing the country’s first graduate degree programs in health.
Capacity development of human resources for health has resulted in several health staff benefitting from International Master’s and Bachelor’s programs as well
as the training courses in the areas of clinical medicine and public health, including program management and development. Through Dr Samlee’s personal initiatives, many Bhutanese health officials have attended various high level international conferences and seminars.
Over his time in Bhutan, WHO’s collaborative program in Bhutan has extended to cover a wide range of health programs, including the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, maternal and child health, health promotion, traditional medicine, and telemedicine services among many others.
With his support, the WHO has provided various technical assistances (TA) to MoH to conduct and review important activities. The TA to study the feasibility of granting autonomy to JDWNRH and RRHs, TA for National Health Accounts (NHA), TA for development of National Health Bill and TA for development of Health Information system are among the many initiatives.
Dr Samlee was also involved in the establishment of the Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BTF) that developed a mechanism for sustainable financing of essential medicines and vaccines in Bhutan.
Bhutan has been able to develop grant proposal and get support from Global Fund to combat various chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The total grant availed by the ministry from GF is USD 11,074,359.
Dr Samlee also helped to strengthen Menjong Sor i g Pharmaceutical (MSP) by providing funds for procurement of high end equipment like, High Performance Thin Layer Choreograph (HPTLC) and also in building the capacity of the staff. The drafting of National Health Bill which is currently under process has also been made possible with his support.
Dr Samlee made his first visit in Bhutan in early 1980s as consultant for primary health care project in Mongar whereby, his work laid the foundation in establishing and strengthening primary health care in Bhutan which received global recognition through the Sasakawa Award in 1997.