BHTF to fund entire essential drugs and vaccines

The fund today stands at Nu 1.3 billion

Health: Sixteen years after it was established, the Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF) in the presence of former donors yesterday, formally launched the financing of all essential drugs and pentavalent vaccine in the country.

With the handing over of cheques to the finance ministry, a symbolic realization of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s vision, the Trust Fund now takes over the responsibility to fund the country’s requirement of the pentavalent vaccine and 475 essential drugs, which includes 381 allopathic, and 94 traditional medicines.

Starting 2014 – 2015 fiscal year, the Trust Fund started financing the entire essential drugs worth Nu 180M. This fiscal year it will spend Nu 220M on essential drugs and Nu 14M on pentavalent vaccine.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the launch is a significant move to sustain primary health care services in the country.

“As the nation celebrates the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 60th birth anniversary this year, we are proud that the Trust Fund has started to fund the essential drugs and vaccines,” lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said.

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The health minister said that the overall health of people has improved as indicated by increased life expectancy, improved child survival rate and declining maternal mortality rate.

“This has to be sustained and further improved,” he said. “Having a sustainable financing mechanism is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and has become the need of present and future generations of Bhutanese people.”

Money from the Trust Fund was first used in 2003-2004 to procure Hepatitis B vaccine and has also supported the procurement of Measles-Rubella vaccines. Since 2009, the Trust Fund co-financed the procurement of pentavalent vaccines with Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

With an initial target of USD 24 million (M) the fund today stands at Nu 1.3 billion (USD 20M). The initial target was achieved in 2009 and the revised target is now USD 30M. Trust Fund officials said the fund earns an annual interest income of Nu 108M (USD 1.6M)

Acting Prime Minister Damcho Dorji, who launched the financing, said the move to finance essential drugs and vaccines by BHTF is timely, especially when Bhutan joins the world in gearing towards its achievement in the post 2015 development agenda.

“Lack of access to essential drugs and vaccines due to financial reason is regarded as a human right issue and Bhutan has always been mindful of this basic human right,” he said. “I am deeply honoured and pleased that we are officially setting wings to this noble intent of the Trust Fund today.”

However, the Trust Fund in its responsibility to create a sustainable financing facility for continued supply of critical vaccines and essential drugs in the country is still confronted with the challenge to mobilize resources.

The Trust Fund’s executive director Choyzang Tashi said mobilizing fund both domestic and international, lack of awareness and the absence of a good local investment avenue are some of the challenges.  “The funding gap is projected to increase from 2018,” he said.

He called for an aggressive resource mobilization based on the strategic plan, the need to strengthen the Trust Fund secretariat and to develop links and partnerships at national and international levels.

Sonam Pelden

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