Grant: The Japanese government has committed Nu 89 million for the procurement of 29 ambulances, which the health ministry will receive in March next year.

The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) secretary, Sonam Wangchuk, and the chief representative with JICA Bhutan, Yumiko Asakuma, signed a grant aid agreement for the replacement of ambulances phase II project yesterday. In 2011, the Japanese government gave 26 ambulances in the project’s first phase.

Department of Medical Services director general, Dr Ugen Dophu, said not all 29 ambulances are an additional to the existing 110 in the country. Nineteen would replace the old ones, which would be surrendered to the finance ministry. Some 48 ambulances in the country have been in use for more than its lifespan of 10 years.

According to Dr Ugen Dophu, the vehicles will be distributed to grade I and II basic heath units (BHU). Currently, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital has seven ambulances, regional referral hospitals have five and other hospitals have two each. All grade I BHU has an ambulance each while grade II BHUs have none.

A GNHC official said the assistance would help Bhutan improve the quality of emergency medical services as well as accessibility.

“This initiative will go a long way in strengthening the medical emergency system particularly in remote villages,” Sonam Wangchuk said. “A prompt efficient delivery of medical service will contribute to saving many lives.”

Yumiko Asakuma said the project would benefit people in the rural areas to have access to ambulance services when they need.

Dr Ugen Dophu said the ambulance service is the fairest health service in Bhutan. “No matter where you live, irrespective of your background, anyone can avail the service,” he said. Availing ambulance services has become very easy after the establishment of Health Help Centre (HHC) in 2011, he added. While in the past people had to go through many procedures to get ambulances, anyone who wants to avail the service can dial 112 now.

The director general also pointed out that people misuse the healthcare facilities. Out of about 151,000 calls HHC received, only 6,000 calls actually needed the ambulance service. The rest were all hoax calls.

By Dechen Tshomo