Health: There is a high prevalence of Thiamin (Vitamin B1) deficiency in school children, which can cause weakness, fatigue and peripheral neuropathy (PN).

This is revealed in Bhutan Health Journal launched in Thimphu during the first international conference on Medical and Health Sciences on Friday. The journal, an official scientific publication of Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences, states that the number of school children with Thiamin deficiency increased when they are in school.

A group of doctors studied a total of 448 students from February to November 2014 from the seven dzongkhags of Chukha, Lhuentse, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjongkhar, Trongsa and Zhemgang with history of PN outbreaks. The journal states the vitamin deficiency was suspected to be the cause of the PN outbreaks, but the status of the vitamin had never been established.

The study found about 90 percent of the students became Thiamin deficient before their mid-term breaks, and the status of Thiamin did not change during the two-week mid-term break. However, in the second half of the academic year, the percentage of students with Thiamin deficiency decreased to about 80 percent.

This slight improvement in the Thiamin deficiency during the second term of last year, according to the study, could probably be explained by the interventions undertaken by the education ministry to improve the school feeding programme.

The government implemented the centralized procurement system of food items for schools from July 2014, where 60 percent of the students’ Nu 1,000 stipend was released to Food Corporation of Bhutan to supply nine non-perishable food items (rice, oil, pulses, chickpeas, soya meat, milk powder, sugar, salt, and tealeaf). The remaining 40 percent of the students’ stipend were released to their respective schools for procurement and supply of perishable foods.

Despite the efforts by the education ministry to improve the school feeding programme, the study indicated that Thiamin nutrition of the school children were still far from adequate.

The school children had generally very low intake of Thiamin from dietary sources. The average dietary Thiamin intake was 0.65 and 0.57mg per day in the first and the second half of the academic year respectively against the requirement of 0.9mg per day set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“Although the study was not powered to represent the whole of the Bhutanese population, Thiamin could be a big problem in the general population as half the participants of this study were already deficient in the nutrient when they entered the study,” the journal states. A larger population based study, though, is required to validate the findings of the study, it states.

The study also states that mean dietary intake of B Vitamins, Iron, and Vitamin A were all below the minimum requirements among the students.

Meanwhile, a wide spectrum of health and medical issues were discussed during the three-day conference, which ended yesterday. For instance, faculty member of Nursing and Public Health, Deki Pem, presented a report on use of condom and emergency contraceptive pills among drayang employees and truck drivers in Thimphu and Phuentsholing.

She said condoms were not easily available in places other than Phuentsholing and Thimphu. Deki Pem also said that both truck drivers and drayang employees were aware of use of condom.

The conference and the journal are dedicated to the 60th Birth Anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Henceforth, Bhutanese health professionals will gather annually for a scientific session to update and share their professional experiences. The annual event is a platform to learn, share and discuss clinical experiences both from local and international experts.

President of the university, Dr KP Tshering said 17 international speakers and over 40 international participants took part in the conference. “We are happy and honoured to dedicate this important journal to the celebration of the 60th Birth anniversary of our beloved Fourth Druk Gyalpo,” he said.

Speaking at the occasion, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the journal is expected to help the government in policy formulation. He also said the outcomes of the conference would enable improve medical services in the country.

MB Subba