Tshering Namgyal | Mongar 

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo launched the health flagship programme to eliminate three cancers: gastrical, cervical and breast cancer, at the eastern regional referral hospital in Mongar yesterday.

“We could fight and contain the Covid-19 pandemic because we went all out. If we put the same effort in this flagship programme, it is achievable,” she said.

She also thanked health workers for their extraordinary service during Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is why His Majesty awarded Druk Thuksey medal to the health ministry.”

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said cancer has a huge economic, social and human capital cost. “Cancer incidence and mortality could be reduced through early screening and prevention.”

She said comprehensive awareness and advocacy programme and making health facilities available at people’s doorstep is must. “The health flagship programme would take care of it.”

She also said it is important to treat patients who already suffer from cancer by giving palliative care.

The health minister said it is an opportunity for great transformation in approach and strategy in the services provided to give equitable health services to people.

Assuring government’s optimum support through the flagship programme, she urged the health service providers to be a proactive rather than being a passive care provider by going out in the community and see what is required.

Lyonpo said equipping all dzongkhag hospitals with basic specialists like surgeon, medical specialist and gynaecologist would take another few years. “By then we would lose many people to those cancers. This flagship programme is an immediate solution.”

She said it is her responsibility to ensure resources are available and it’s the duty of health officials to provide public service.

The minister also launched health flagship blueprint and inaugurated the newly installed high-end endoscopy machine worth Nu 7.6 million, first to be used in the country, which detects the gastric (stomach) cancer in its early stage.

The government has procured 10 endoscopy machines in total as part of the flagship programme, and they would be installed in Trashigang and Dewathang hospital in the east, Wangdue and Gelephu hospitals in the central and Phuntsholing and Paro and Thimphu in the west.

The project coordinator from the ministry of health, Pempa, said gastric cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death with its presence in at least 28 per 100,000 people in the country and H.pylori is one of the main causes of gastric cancer in the country.

He said the flagship programme would focus on mass eradication of H.pylori infection by screening and detection through stool antigen test, urea breath test, rapid urease test in biopsy specimen by UGIE, histopathology for all population between 18-75 years. “This would be followed by an early gastric cancer screening programme for the high-risk group of people with the age group 40-75 years.”

He said cervical cancer stands second in the list, killing 20 per 100,000 people and the main cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection from high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted sexually.

As part of the flagship programme HPV test would be put in place in addition to an ongoing PAP smear test for all women between the ages 25 to 65 for cervical cancer screening. It is further confirmed through colposcopy.

Similarly, all target population (40-65 years) would be screened for breast cancer with around seven of the 100,000 people suffering from it as of now.

Health officials said the flagship programme is for three years. Five dzongkhags are targeted to cover by June this year, 10 dzongkhags by next year and remaining dzongkhags in the last phase.

The minister also visited the Royal guesthouse, which could be converted into Mother and Child Hospital. She also met the dzongkhag Covid-19 taskforce members.