Stroke, often referred to as a brain attack, has emerged as a critical health concern in Bhutan, ranking as the third leading cause of death. The gravity of the situation is underscored by alarming statistics from the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, revealing a total of 876 stroke patients recorded from 2021 to October 2023. This concerning trend manifests in a steady increase, with 316 cases reported in 2021 and 332 in 2022.

Health experts attribute the rising incidence of strokes in Bhutan to the escalating burden of non-communicable diseases. The country grapples with the challenges posed by lifestyle factors, contributing to the surge in health issues, particularly those related to cardiovascular health.

To combat this growing threat, health professionals advocate for heightened awareness and a proactive approach, emphasising the BE-FAST acronym: B for loss of balance, E for sight problems, F for facial drooping, A for arm weakness, S for speech difficulties, and T for the crucial factor of time.

The BE-FAST protocol serves as a vital tool for individuals and their caregivers to identify potential stroke symptoms promptly.

Recognition of these signs necessitates urgent action, with a swift visit to the nearest hospital becoming imperative. Stroke symptoms may vary, encompassing issues such as severe headaches or loss of consciousness. Early detection and timely Interventions are pivotal in mitigating the debilitating effects of strokes.

However, the challenges persist due to the absence of a well-established stroke care infrastructure in the country. As a consequence, a significant number of stroke survivours in Bhutan grapple with disabilities, both individually and at a national level. The lack of adequate stroke care services intensifies the burden on disability care, impacting the affected individuals and placing strain on the broader healthcare system.

In light of these circumstances, we must adopt a comprehensive strategy to address the stroke crisis.

Let us talk about enhancing public awareness. There is a need to launch extensive public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the risk factors, symptoms, and the BE-FAST protocol. Encourage communities to prioritise their health and seek prompt medical attention when signs of a stroke emerge.

We can also invest in healthcare infrastructure. We can develop and strengthen stroke care services across the country. This includes training healthcare professionals, ensuring the availability of specialised equipment, and establishing dedicated stroke units in major healthcare facilities.

Also, there is a need to promote a healthy lifestyle. We must tackle the root causes of strokes by promoting healthy lifestyle choices. Implement policies that encourage physical activity, a balanced diet, and the reduction of risk factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Coming to the programmes that we can implement, we can and should establish rehabilitation programmes to support stroke survivours in regaining functionality and independence. This involves creating accessible and well-equipped rehabilitation centres and integrating rehabilitation services into the overall healthcare framework.

All these and more can be done. What we need is focus driven by reliable data.

Addressing the rising incidence of strokes in Bhutan demands a concerted effort from the government, healthcare professionals, and the community. By fostering a culture of proactive healthcare, we can significantly reduce the impact of strokes, improve patient outcomes, and pave the way for a healthier, more resilient society.