The government has finalised the programme that is aimed at safeguarding the health of vulnerable expecting mothers, mothers with newborns and their infants.
It is detailed and strategised, clearing a lot of doubts and questions. Whatever it is called – breastfeeding allowance, maternity allowance, or accelerating mother and child health – the intent of the programme is noble.
The Cabinet, equipped with expertise from the health sector, knows well what is wrong in the areas of mothers and child. A review of the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development indicates that despite key health outcomes, challenges remain, including regional disparities in health status and wide district-level variations in health outcomes and service coverage.
It highlighted that across dzongkhags, wide disparities were found in the prevalence of both institutional delivery and skilled birth attendants, highlighting the need for district-level interventions in these two areas.
The immediate objective of the programme, to increase the uptake of maternal and child health services and to speed up services should help in achieving the broader objectives of good health and well-being.
Recognising inequalities in health services, the government prioritised health care in their mandate. Notwithstanding the political aspect to the decision of speeding up health services, especially to women and child, taking such services to the needy is important.
Experts in the health sector say that inequality is so stark that a villager in remote Bhutan suffering from hypertension has only one type of medicine. Those in Thimphu have access to about 10.
Challenges in the health sector are vast. We need targeted programmes for many health issues. For instance, lifestyle disease is getting attention as it is eating into the government coffer. But investing in mother and child health is nipping some problems in the bud. This will help achieve some of our goals like reducing the infant mortality rate.
Funding for health is also found to be declining. External financing of health has dropped from around 28 percent in 1996 to about 12 per cent in 2012, according to one finding. The programme will come at a huge cost, but it worth investing.
If the programme becomes a success, it will ease the burden on the national referral hospital, which is overcrowded by self-referral. When thinking about a generation of people who were born in sheds or at home, we have come a long way. Today, most of our basic health units are manned by health workers who are trained to give maternal health services.
The programme will begin from August. Creating awareness is important.