Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”, and interestingly after 2,000 years, the quote still stands true today.

With the current coronavirus pandemic bringing down many countries to its knees, we are once again, reminded of the centrality of health in our everyday life and its significance in the developmental paradigm. Many will agree that a key prerequisite of any economic or social advancement, is the health and wellbeing of the population.

If we were to scan the evolution of health systems, be it public, private or a mixed model, many have in the past and continue to advocate that, health must be protected, and promoted for a vibrant and sustainable development. Fortunately, in Bhutan, health has always been a basic human right, enshrined in our Constitution and compassionately sculpted over many decades by our successive Monarchs.

These days, when many countries are strategising and working with the health industries and insurance companies on how and to what extent the cost of pandemic should be covered by the states, for a Bhutanese, worrying about insurance coverage and out of pocket expenditure for health services is an alien dilemma.  Even during this unprecedented time, everything, from facility quarantine to treatment to recovery is fully borne by the state.  For a nation with the smallest economy of barely USD 3 Billion GDP, and now spending half of its per capita GDP on protecting its citizen from coronavirus pandemic, yet again Bhutan reaffirms the value that health is happiness for its people.

It is not an easy decision for any government, if we were to randomly pick people along the main street of Thimphu city and ask their thoughts on the impact of coronavirus, it is fair to conclude that given a choice between life and livelihood, it will always be life for many, but with the precondition that you have a social safety net to protect you and your loved once from economic adversity.

During other times, we have, the so called “market forces” to achieve that social and economic wellbeing equilibrium, but today, due to the unprecedented circumstances, tough choices must be made, within a short span of time. In doing so, a path must be decided, a path between economy and health, life and livelihood, so on and so forth.  These choices for any government is the toughest decision, simply because the decision not only has a bearing on the individual life, but the lives of many and, ultimately the “health” of the nation.

Although, to an average person it seems simple, but the deeper we look, there are web of issues that needs thoughtful consideration and microscopic analysis. Take the economy as an example, immediately the current pandemic presents a new variety of instability and disharmony that can be triggered by an economic recession like the Great Depression of the 1930s and then there is the uncertainty of the future, is there an end to this pandemic? Experts around the world agrees that the “ Global economy” itself is on a ventilator, how and in what manner it will be weaned out is yet to be predicted; some say it may recover rapidly (V-shaped); some say it may be in a staggered manner over few years (U-shaped); and some are adamant that we are in for a long haul (L-shaped); BUT only time will tell.

Never did we imagine a pneumonia of unknown cause reported to the World Health Organisation on the eve of new year would inflict great illness, death, and instability in most communities across the world.  These days no one can escape from the grimness of the daily news; sometimes we hear that the infection curve is flattening in places, spiking in others, and curving in some, where we stand is hard to predict. While we would like to be optimistic and true to the facts, it is not always easy, given what the science tells us and reality of inevitable.

Thus, in this era of uncertainty, leadership is the lifeline.  Leadership may be hard to define, but in times of crisis it is easy to find, and it is impartial to say that, exemplary leadership will steer the ship forward in the ocean of turmoil.  Beyond politics, economics and science lie qualities of character, manifested in the leadership that governs at the time of crisis. We Bhutanese that way, has always been blessed with benevolent Kings, our pinnacle of admiration and hope.

Recognising the multidimensional effects and needs of the society, His Majesty was quick to respond to the calling of everyday Bhutanese through the Kidu programme, rendering immediate relief to the most affected individuals and families. His Majesty The King at the helm of this pandemic provided the much needed guidance. His Majesty said, “We must exhibit the strength that comes out of our smallness, remain united and support one another. During such exceptional circumstances, the government will take the responsibility of alleviating any suffering to the people due to the virus”.  The key words such as united, support one another and responsibility are values that are imbedded in the intrinsic fabric of our society and once again sets Bhutan apart from the world during this pandemic.

We hear global leaders talk about “whole of government” approach, but unique to Bhutan is “whole of society” approach, under the singular unifying forces of our love and respect for our Kings. Boosting the epidemiological response, we have a social resolute; people from all walks of life, from every sectors and communities coming together to collectively protect our country from coronavirus.  Where government is falling short, civil societies and private sectors have delivered, most going beyond the traditional mandates and shouldering extra responsibility.  Farmers giving up their annual harvest to feed the people in quarantines, thousands of monks chanting for peace, youths walking miles to guard our borders, elderly turning the prayer wheels for solidarity, every one of us is playing our part to protect our country, that to me is the vaccine that will for sure keep us SAFE.

Contributed by

Dechey Omu,