Health officials urge people to cooperate

Younten Tshedup

Despite the nationwide lockdown, the health ministry has managed to keep essential medical services running uninterrupted across the country.

Services like mother and childcare, immunisation, reproductive health, emergencies, care for vulnerable population (infants and elderlies above 60 years) including persons with disabilities and medication for ongoing management of chronic diseases including mental health, among others continues to be available in all the health centres.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said that even before the nationwide lockdown was enforced, all health facilities were asked to dispense refill medicine for three months except for those requiring frequent consultations.


New initiatives

Following the lockdown, refills for patients who were on long-term medication for chronic diseases were delivered at their doorsteps.

However, the ministry recently piloted another mechanism to further streamline the delivery of medicine refills in Thimphu. With the introduction of the zoning system, health ministry identified one outlet (shop) in each zone as an access point to pick and drop medicine refills.

People requiring the refill are asked to drop their prescription with their contact details at the identified shops. In the evening health staff collect the prescription, collect the medicine from the pharmacy at the national referral hospital and drop it back at the same shop.

Health officials said that individuals could collect their medicine the next day. And should someone forget to collect the refill, the shopkeeper or a De-Suup on duty would contact the individual to collect the refill.

Dr Ugen Dophu said that this method was found to be more sustainable and easy rather than health workers having to drop the refills to individual households. “So far we have received good feedback on the initiative. We want to replicate this in other urban centres too in the future.”

He said that the method was piloted in Thimphu as there were complaints of delay in delivery. The mechanism he said was possible and more effective in urban areas.

The ministry has also put in additional vehicles to complement the existing ambulance fleet at all levels of health care centres up to basic health unit (BHU) grade I.

Depending on the size of the centres, the secretary said that additional vehicles were put to reach maximum public and carter services immediately.

However, he said that despite the additional vehicles it was challenging for the centres to provide timely response to all. “This is because our vehicles have to wait for the individual for almost an hour. This disrupts our strategy and we land up doing only three trips instead of 10 in a day.”

“I would like to request people if they have called for ambulances to be ready on time and not to keep the vehicles waiting,” said Dr Ugen Dophu. “Don’t delay the vehicles as they have to cater to other people as well.”


For an efficient system

The health ministry has made it mandatory, since August 11, to allow only one attendant per patient in all hospitals across the country. To reinforce the regulation and in preparation of a worst-case scenario, the ministry on Thursday announced that all patients who are going to be admitted to the hospital along with their attendants would be tested for Covid-19.

A notification from the ministry stated that patient attendants would not be allowed to change until the patient is discharged. No food from outside would be allowed and health facilities would provide a balanced diet food for the patients and the attendant. Also no visitors or relatives would be allowed to visit patients.

Dr Ugen Dophu said that although admissions to the hospitals are continuing, the overall patient visiting hospitals decreased including people visiting the emergency unit.

“Unlike before, only the real and genuine patients are coming now. This is what we want even after the lockdown is lifted. We want people to visit the hospitals only if they really need the service.”

The secretary also said that people should only call the hotline numbers if they are in need of the medical services. “There are people who call our hotline numbers to flirt with lady health workers attending the calls.” 

He said that prank calls and queries about other issues such as garbage collection, vegetable delivery and other services clog the hotline and deprive opportunities of those requiring health services.

“Please cooperate with us so that we can cater to as many people as possible. If people continue calling these numbers unnecessarily, we might have to take legal action against them,” he said.

Dr Ugen Dophu said that since more lockdowns could happen henceforth, the health system has to be more efficient with each lockdown. “Covid-19 will stay for a while and the health system has to be wiser and more efficient going forward. And people should also become more cooperative so that things can work more efficiently.”