Chimi Dema

To ease the acute shortage of specialists in the country, 19 specialists from Bangladesh have arrived in the country on February 10.

The doctors have come about 10 months after Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s state visit to Bangladesh when he requested the Government of Bangladesh to send specialists to Bhutan.

The team includes seven Anesthesiologists, five general and an Orthopedic Surgeons, three Pediatricians, a Gynaecologist, a Medical specialist, and a nephrologist, who is a sub-specialist.

An official with health ministry said that an additional Anesthesiologist would arrive soon.

The specialists would be placed at the referral hospitals, and other dzongkhag hospitals in Wangdue, Phuentsholing, Trashigang and Samtse, on a priority basis considering the need and recommendations of the respective head of the departments.

With the retirement of two national medical specialists last year and some more specialists attaining their retirement age in the coming few years, the country has become critically short of specialists.

Going by the annual health bulletin 2019, the country has a shortage of 2,201 medical professionals at various categories including specialists, nurses and technicians.

During the question hour at the National Assembly yesterday,  Nanong Shumar Member of Parliament, Lungten Namgyel asked the health minister on the possibility of providing one gynaecologist to each dzongkhag considering the critical shortage of the specialist in many dzongkhags.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the country today has only about 13 gynaecologists, slightly more than the number of surgeons, which is 10.

“If a gynaecologist is to be provided to each hospital, there are around 55 hospitals in need of a specialist,” she said.

Given that the country produces only two new gynaecologists each year, Lyonpo said that the shortages would not be addressed even after fifty years from now.

“The shortage is critical,” she said.

While the hiring of specialists from other countries would address the shortage, for the time being, Lyonpo said that it was felt important to produce Bhutanese specialists in the long run to strengthen the health workforce.

The disease burden projection showed that the number of current health professionals is inadequate, she said.

In an effort to initiate mass specialisation beginning this June, the government is sending 56 individuals this year to undergo specialisation in general surgery including 12 persons to be sub-specialised in Oncology, Nephrology and Cardiology, among others, according to Lyonpo.

“The four of them have already left,” she said.

Given the shortage of gynaecologists, the minister said that the special programme on non-communicable diseases screening and gynaecologist services were provided to about 10,000  women within a month in three dzongkhags outside Thimphu.

Meanwhile, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi asked the minister on the plans and policies, and employment strategies of the government to address the problem of Ayurvedic medicine and surgery students whose degrees were not recognised by the Bhutan Medical and Health Council.

The MP said that since the commencement of the course in 2011, the Department of Adult and Higher Education awarded scholarships to 24 and another four students pursued the course with support from Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Having spent five and a half years studying three subjects of Ayurvedic course which is equivalent to Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), the first batch of students graduated in 2018, he said.

However, without formal recognition of their qualification, he said that the students were left unemployed for almost two years now.

Health minister said that as the rules and regulations recognise only Allopathic and Traditional medicines currently, there isn’t much that the government could help.

Lyonpo said that the government has requested the Royal Civil Service Commission to explore employment opportunities for the graduates. “The problem is that the qualification is not recognised by the law.”

She said that some of them were employed in Bhutan Cancer Society while a few others were engaged in conducting counselling. “Two of them left for masters while some were preparing to pursue masters.”

For those pursuing the course currently, she said that the government is also exploring options to change the course.

Lyonpo also said that while the students were sent to pursue the courses, the policies, Act and regulations in the country were not revised accordingly.