The health of its people reflects a society’s wellbeing. Health is one of the main domains of Gross National Happiness and free access to basic healthcare is mandated by the Constitution.

Debates that have ensued following the government’s proposal to explore corporatising the national referral hospital  indicates the importance the people place on healthcare.  For many, health is a personal concern. But we expect the health ministry to address all issues related to healthcare even though most of us are aware that other agencies should be ​equally responsible.

We are now seeing  healthcare concerns becoming institutionalised with the Royal Civil Service Commission initiating to screen​ civil servants for health problems. The move is commendable for it shows that the well-​being of civil servants matters as much as their performance. Civil ser​vants constitute a large portion of the nation’s workforce and their ill health could reduce productivity.

Civil Service Well-being is one of the reforms the commission has initiated for the welfare of ​the civil servants. It is expected to help attract, retain, and motivate civil servants in implementing the country’s development plans. While we do not yet know how healthy our civil servants are, we do know how happy they are.

The latest GNH survey found that civil servants, after members of Gewog and Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogchung, reported the highest levels of happiness. With people sourcing health as one of the reasons for happiness, it is tempting to believe that our civil servants are both healthy and happy. But our farmers, who are assumed to be more physically active than office goers and therefore healthy, reported being the least happy.

However, the disease burden the country is facing cannot be ignored. The demographic, epidemiological, technological and socio-economic transitions that the country is seeing impact health outcomes. We are seeing an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancers and mental health issues even as we address diarrhoea and other water and sanitation related problems. We are becoming obese but still facing challenges to tackle malnutrition. These diseases burden both the families and the state in terms of expenditure.

Alcohol​-related diseases are a chronic problem in the country. We may have as many studies and statistics as we have health and social problems associated to alcohol. The commission’s initiative to screen is a good start but promoting a healthy lifestyle in the civil service or the society needs a collective effort. We have to inculcate a culture of healthy lifestyle so that we do not see public servants using their health condition to avoid postings outside Thimphu.

It is hoped that the screening ​will discourage civil servants from availing medical certificates that declares them fit to be in the civil service but not fit a month later when he or she is transferred to another dzongkhag. Health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living, according to World Health Organisation. We urge other agencies to follow the commission’s initiative in promoting a healthy society.