Noncommunicable diseases (NCD), known also as chronic diseases, have been putting a severe financial pressure on the country for rather a very long time now. There have been interventions but, going by the year-on-year statistics, more needs to be done.

By definition, noncommunicable diseases are non-infectious health conditions that cannot be spread from person to person and they last for a long period of time—so the prefix “chronic”.

Going by the annual health bulletin 2020, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes—triggered and caused by unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, smoking and second-hand smoke and excessive use of alcohol, among others—were responsible for more than 70 percent of deaths in the country.

What we can read from the bulletin is that, in the last five years, the number of deaths due to noncommunicable diseases among the Bhutanese population has not dropped even with “concerted effort”.

If the many advocacy programmes are bearing little fruit, as is obvious, it is about time we changed the way we see and tackle the problems that give rise to increasing cases related to noncommunicable diseases. Allowing for a little change—drop and rise—in the number of alcohol usage and addiction in the society, for example, is still very high.

There are the many laws, policies and regulations to change the unhealthy lifestyles that contribute to the growing instances of noncommunicable diseases among the Bhutanese. Much of all these can be blamed on modernisation, increasing trade and the many choices. But then, all these legal tools, unfortunately, are rendered toothless. There is a manifest lack of clear objective and the necessary drive to achieve the goal.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that evidence-based planning was necessary. She is not wrong. Only we have been saying the same thing over and over again. 

Where do we go from now? That’s the question.

Records show that 11.4 percent of Bhutanese are obese, 33.5 percent overweight; 7.3 percent of do not meet the recommended standard of 150 minutes of physical activities every week; 87 percent do not consume five servings of fruits and vegetables; and salt consumption is 8.3 grams, double the recommended 5 grams per day.

We do not have to wait for the next survey to tell us what we must do. We already know where we are falling short. If only we could bring ourselves to focus more on preventive care rather than on curative care, the health spend on noncommunicable diseases can be brought down immensely, which could be diverted to essential development projects that we are in dire need. 

And this is no rocket science.

We have had enough of consistent sidestepping. We know the causes and we also know what antidotes we require. How do we get ourselves to working truly hard to bring down the incidences of noncommunicable diseases in the country, advocacy programmes besides?

These are the many questions that deserve serious attention, now more than ever.