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Govt announced the availability of radiation therapy at the JDWNRH and a plan to start a cancer centre

About 15 cancer patients availed radiation therapy service at the national referral hospital in Thimphu since the service began last month.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay made this announcement during an event to commemorate the Move for Health Walk at the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu, yesterday.

Informing the people on the new health services established and those in plans, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said patients who cannot be treated in the country due to lack of capacity and health services are referred to India.

Last year, a total of 1,500 patients were referred to India at a cost of Nu 200 million (M). Of the total referrals, 550 were cancer patients.

“When a patient is referred outside Bhutan, it is a hassle for both the patient and the family so we are providing the service at home,” Lyonchhen said. “Chemotherapy services have already been started.” There is a plan to establish a cancer centre in the country soon.

Of the total referrals last year, about 20 were sent to India for kidney transplant. Lyonchhen said kidney transplant would also be done in the country soon.

“Doctors have been trained, equipment and machinery were purchased, and spaces for the service are readied.” In the last three years, 100 patients were referred to India for a kidney transplant.

Lyonchhen said Bhutan is different from the rest of the world because the country provides free health care to its people.

“The government spends billions of Ngultrums to provide free health care services to its people. Starting from a paracetamol to medicine for chemotherapy, every essential drug is brought from the Bhutan Health Trust Fund,” he said. “Our generations to come should also get what we get free now; so Bhutan Health Trust Fund is important.”

On October 1, 2016, the prime minister had said that the health trust fund will be doubled from Nu 1.5 billion (B) to Nu 3B in the next two years.

“Within 18 months, the capital fund was more than doubled to Nu 3.3B,” Lyonchhen said.

The prime minister acknowledged the support of all who helped in achieving the target including the health minister, health ministry and its staff, BHTF director and its staff, and the donor agencies.

BHTF received a grant of Nu 650M from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and an endowment of Nu 500M from the government. It is expected to receive returns of Nu 150M from its investments.

Resident representative of ADB Kanokpan Lao-Araya said ADB has been a long-time partner with the government of Bhutan since the inception of the BHTF.

She said ADB is working on a health sector development programme for Bhutan and will provide USD 20M in grant.  Of the total grant, about USD 10M will be released to replenish BHTF. The programme is expected to commence by the end of the year.

“ADB is committed to helping Bhutan pave way for sustainable health financing that emphasise equity, access and quality across the health sector,” she said.

The government of Bangladesh committed to supplying 258 essential drugs worth about Nu 150M from September this year. Besides committing to donate USD 50,000 to the BHTF this year, Korea Bhutan Friendship Association also committed to donate 185 essential drugs out of the list provided by BHTF in 2019.

Lyonchhen said 300 patients were airlifted from across the country in about two years since the helicopter service was introduced in 2016. “The service was introduced to provide medical assistance to people in rural areas during emergencies.”

Lyonchhen said some politicians during their visits to villages, misled and misinformed the people about the government’s intention to corporatise JDWNRH and caused concern to people. “If doctors, civil servants and dzongdags say it then it may be true but if politicians say it then I have to say it is not true because it’s not.”

The government has only asked to study and assess the possibility of corporatising the hospital to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of health services, he said. “It was made clear that the initiative in no way intends to encourage commercialisation of services or levy charges to patients for public health services.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk who is also the chairman of BHTF said BHTF is playing an increasing role as a donor to the health ministry in ensuring the sustainability of basic primary health care services. “We have to ensure that sufficient resources are mobilised in order to make progress in moving towards universal quality health services and sustain the Constitutional mandate to provide free basic health care to all Bhutanese.”

As part of the event, a three-day medical expo was opened at the Clock Tower Square to provide a platform for pharmaceutical suppliers of Bhutan and manufacturers and distributors of medical products from neighbouring countries like Thailand, Nepal and India.

The medical expo is expected to build relationships and businesses as well as showcase advancement in medical technology and services.

During the event, the move for health special lottery draw was held and results declared. About Nu 38M worth of lottery tickets were sold since November 1 last year.

Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF) organised the move for health special lottery in collaboration with Bhutan Lottery Limited to mobilise recourses for the health trust fund.

A total of 300,000 tickets (15,000 booklets) were printed.

Dechen Tshomo

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