Jigmi Wangdi

Diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) continue to be among the most prevalent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) identified in the country.

A study conducted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) indicates that the increase in blood sugar levels in 2023 has risen to approximately five percent.

This is in comparison to the data from the STEPs surveys conducted in 2014 and 2019, which reported rates of 1.9 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Hypertension among Bhutanese was identified at approximately 27.2 percent in the 2019 STEPs survey. However, the ministry observed an increase to 30 percent in 2023.

Laigden Dzed, chief programme officer at the Department of Public Health, MoH, said that while there was not a significant leap in the trend, it did not align with the ministry’s goals. “We aim for lower rates.”

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor has also increased.

“The prevalence of adult population with increased cholesterol levels has gone up from 11.5 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2023. This rising trend is a huge challenge,” Laigden said.

Other risk factors include obesity, as well as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

“The consumption of fruits and vegetables has decreased from 85 percent to 74 percent,” Laigden Dzed said. “Regarding hypertension, Bhutanese consume more salt, exceeding the World Health Organization’s recommendation of five grams.”

Although many people know about the NCDs to a certain degree, 65 percent of the population do not know that they are hypertensive and 43 percent of the population is not aware of diabetes, according to the 2019 study.

Interventional cardiologist, Dr Mahesh Gurung, said that from the 250 patients that have been treated at the Cath lab in JDWNRH, around 100 patients underwent angioplasty.

“Sixty-four percent of the patients had hypertension and 24 percent had diabetes,” Dr Mahesh said, adding that globally, the prevalence of diabetes cases has increased from 211.2 million in 1990 to 476 million in 2017, an increase by 129.7 percent.

Hypertension is one of the main causes of CVDs. Globally, hypertension in adults aged 30 to 79 years was 32 percent in women and 34 percent in men in 2019.