Receives the WHO’s Excellence in Public Health award

Award: In recogniation of their path-breaking interventions that helped improve the health and well-being of people in their countries, the World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region yesterday conferred the Excellence in Public Health awards to former health and education minister Sangay Ngedup and former President of Timor-Leste Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao.

Former minister Sangay Ngedup is recognised for setting up the Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF), to fund vaccines and essential drugs when he served as the director general of Health Services.

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, who is currently the Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment, has been awarded for building sustainable health services, specifically in training medical doctors.

“The award is an appreciation and acknowledgement of their significant contributions to health care services,” Regional Director WHO South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said at an event on the sidelines of the WHO Regional Committee meeting in Dili, Timor-Leste. The award comprises of a citation and a plaque.

Sangay Ngedup, who became the director general of Health Services in 1992 and the health and education minister in 1998, brought unprecedented development in the health sector, both quantitatively and qualitatively, states the WHO press release.

During a decade of dedicated service, he oversaw the expansion of health infrastructure as well as health services and left behind the legacy of the BHTF.

Health ministry officials said that the BHTF was the former minister’s brainchild and its main purpose was to put aside a sufficient amount of funds in a trust to ensure the continued funding of two critical components of health services – vaccines and essential drugs. The target capital required for BHTF was estimated at about USD 24 million (M) to accrue the returns that could sufficiently fund the requirements for vaccines and essential drugs for the whole country.

The Trust Fund was established through a Royal Kasho in 1997 to ensure the future provision of preventive and curative health services to the people, independent of the government or donor funding.

In an interview with Kuensel in October 2000, Sangay Ngedup had said that the concept of BHTF arose out of concerns over the sustainability of the present health care system, especially the essential drugs and vaccines, which are the backbone of primary health. He added that the government provides free health care beyond its capacity whereby patients requiring referral or specialised services are referred outside the country.

To raise awareness and support for BHTF, both from within the country and abroad, former mnister Sangay Ngedup undertook the Move for Health, an arduous task of walking from Trashigang in the east of the country to Thimphu, the capital in the west, chalking up a distance of more than 560 kilometers on foot along ancient tracks, and carrying his own rations required for the entire journey of 15 days.

Today, BHTF is close to its target of USD 24M and, in a recent move by the government, the health contribution of all employees is now channelled into BHTF, making it large enough and sustainable to guarantee the availability of all vaccines in the national immunisation programme, and all medicines on the national essential drugs list.

As the President of the country in 2003, Mr Gusmao, had signed a historic agreement with Cuba for building sustainable health system and training medical doctors in Timor-Leste.  Two years later, he signed another agreement with Cuba to train 1,000 Timorese medical doctors. Today all 42 villages in the country have at least one doctor in each of their health centers and health posts.

The WHO awards were initiated last year to recognise public health professionals or institution/ programme, whose work had resulted in far-reaching implications and gains.

Sonam Pelden, Timor Leste