Without any update on the investigation into the death of a patient who died with Covid-19, people are questioning why the Bhutan Health and Medical Council (BHMC) is not releasing its investigation report.

The report is long due not only because there was an official complaint lodged, but people are comparing it with the case in Merak, Trashigang, where a  health assistant was compulsorily retired. The two cases, although different, are similar as both are related to Covid-19 pandemic and also about health officials.

The HA was found guilty of authorising the caretaker of Merak basic health unit to administer Covid-19 vaccine to villagers during the fourth Covid-19 vaccination campaign in April this year because the female health assistant, who is the in-charge, did not come on time. The offence was considered unethical instruction. The caretaker was also terminated.

In the case of the fourth Covid patient’s death in January this year, the deceased’s relatives accused officials in Thimphu of medical and logistic negligence. The 34-year-old woman, who was a chronic kidney patient from Samtse and was living in Phuentsholing undergoing dialysis, died in an isolation hotel in Thimphu.

Although the health ministry declared she died of cardiac complications because of underlying kidney disease exacerbated by Covid-19 infection, her husband and relatives claimed she could have been saved if there was better healthcare and attention.

An investigation started in February after the relatives lodged a complaint to BHMC, but officials refused to divulge any information on the progress of the investigation. There are many waiting for the findings to be made public whether health officials are held accountable or found innocent.

The two cases, similar in nature, but different in how it was handled, speak a lot about our system that could easily punish those in the lower level of the civil service. Many are forced to believe that decisions could be made and altered in the Merak case because it is just an HA and a caretaker involved. The investigation could have dragged on if there were politicians and civil servants in higher positions involved.

In the Merak case, there was no death. The vaccination was considered successful. A woman’s death should be considered more severe. Officials cannot afford to sit on the investigation for months. Those following the case closely understand that BHMC does not have much independence as members are mostly civil servants and also the committee chaired by the health minister will make the final decision.

Whatever the circumstances are, the public deserves to know the truth surrounding the woman’s death, accountability should be fixed if there were medical and logistic negligence and measures should be put in place so that such mishaps will not happen again.