The health ministry will, next week, launch the ‘Financing of Essential Drugs and Medicines’ initiative to raise money to the health trust fund. About 5,000 people across the country will take part in the initiative, which includes also a ‘Move for health” walk.

The event is a part of the thanksgiving event to foreign donors who have in the past generously donated to the Bhutan Health Trust Fund. They will be invited to witness the benefits of their contributions. The health trust fund is an important fund, as it will pay for the purchase of vaccines and essential drugs at a time when the health ministry is challenged for funds and expenses spiralling through the roof.

Every penny donated to the fund will count to ensure that basic healthcare to the Bhutanese populace is continued. It is a noble initiative started by our Drugyal Zhipa who insisted on free health services for the Bhutanese population. This year, as we dedicate the year to the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Drugyal Zhipa, an appropriate way to pay tribute to His Majesty’s contributions to Bhutan would be continuing what was initiated.

We are easy to dedicate almost every event to the occasion, sometimes demeaning the important occasion. If Bhutanese truly has a sense of dedicating, it would be donating to the fund. There are good reasons to do that. According to health officials, the fund has almost come to a standstill by 2002. Another initiative by the former health and education minister, Sangay Ngedup, when he truly walked for health from Trashigang to Thimphu, had contributed about USD 2 million to the fund.

Since then, the walks are becoming shorter and so are the contributions. The walk this year is even shorter, from Ngabi Rongchu to Changlimithang. Hopefully the importance of the event will transcend the distance of the walk. The cost of ensuring free health services is increasing every year. We are one of the few countries in the world where health services including referrals outside the country is free.

While we reap the benefits, we are not realising the difficulties. The increasing cases of non-communicable diseases, what we call lifestyle diseases are challenging the health system. What we contribute through health contributions is insignificant. And not all Bhutanese, even if they can afford, contribute. Bhutanese contributed only about 25 percent of the Nu 1.1 billion received in contributions. This is embarrassing.

With donors withdrawing, it is time Bhutanese contribute significantly to the health fund. And we need not wait for the ministry to organise short walks to encourage people to contribute. We should start thinking of helping ourselves. Health officials estimate the cost of essential drugs for the 2015-16 is Nu 220 million. We cannot rely on foreign donors to fill the gap.

It is time that we start becoming proud contributors to the fund and not depend on the generosity of foreigners or organised walks. A quick way to improve the fund is to raise the health contributions, which now goes to the fund. But that is not right. Every Bhutanese should understand the importance of the fund and be proud contributors.