More than 200 participants, including international delegations from United States, Australia, Sri Lanka, Norway, India, South Korea, and Japan are expected to attend the fourth International Conference on Medical and Health Sciences in Thimphu.

During the inaugural session of the two-day conference at the Royal University of Bhutan’s convention hall in Thimphu yesterday, Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk, chief guest, said a healthy and content population was important for a nation’s progress and security.

Bhutan, he said, placed special importance to the wellbeing and happiness of her people and aspired to raise the level of human contentment with holistic approach to change, progress, and development.

“Their Majesties have, at all times, stressed on the importance of uplifting the lives of our people by improving and ensuring that public services – the right of the people is fast, efficient and effective, particularly health services,” he said.

Article 9 Section 21 of the Constitution, he said, provided that the State must endeavour to provide free basic public healthcare services.

He said Bhutanese were truly blessed because along with free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard, free healthcare services covered all the health services, including the latest treatment modalities except for cosmetic surgeries and some dental procedures.

“Totally free healthcare is going to be extremely costly in the future and may not be sustainable in the long run,” he said. “At the same time, there clearly must be a wise rationale for qualifying basic public health services in the Constitution.”

He said that if medical cost became increasingly prohibitive with the passage of time, basic public health services incorporated in the Constitution might have to be defined.

“In this context, we must be mindful and read the relevant provisions with Article 7 Section 1, which provides for ‘right to life,” he said. “The reading of the two provisions of the Constitution in conjunction makes it the State’s responsibility to provide security in the event of sickness and disability, with free access to basic public health services so that people do not fall victim to any ailment.”

While acknowledging the hard work of the health professionals and workers in improving the healthcare services, Chief Justice said that the progress must continue.

The president of Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB), Dr Kinzang P Tshering, said the conference was a platform to bring together researchers, academician, clinicians, public health specialists and different health professionals to share their research, experiences to enrich knowledge and the latest developments in the field of healthcare.

He said that while the country had made significant progress in its health care in the past five decades, it was still way behind the global standards.

“With more patient awareness, gone are the times of business as usual. It is time to go from volume to value, from provider perspective to the patient-centred care,” he said. “What counts today is the value for the money, improved outcome to the patient and reduced cost.”

These, he said, would be possible only when people are conscious about the quality of the care and put patient at the centre of planning and service provision and by making health care safer with better outcome.

During the two-day conference that ends on November 11, there will be 10 guest speakers and 25 presentations will be made.

The conference’s theme this year is “Improving Quality and Patient Safety in Health Care.”

Three books: Traditional Medicine Anatomy Book, Bhutan health journal, and a conference abstract booklet were launched during the inaugural session.

KGUMSB and JDWNRH organised the annual event with the supports from UNICEF, WHO, and health ministry.

Dechen Tshomo