To improve the diagnostic capacity and services in Bhutan, the Japanese government gave seven medical equipment, including a mammography machine for national and regional referral hospitals in the country.

Ambassador of Japan to Bhutan, Kenji Hiramatsu, handed over the equipment to the health ministry at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu yesterday.

The equipment costs about USD 4.5 million. The cost includes insurance, installation, operational training and maintenance service for four years.

As part of the project, ‘Improvement of Medical Equipment at the National and Regional Referral Hospital,” the Japanese government supported a computed tomography (CT) scan machine with 64-slice and a mammography machine for the JDWNRH.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said the advanced CT scan machine could diagnose heart diseases in addition to the other parts of the body in lesser time compared to the existing 16-slice CT scan machine.

The mammography machine is being introduced in the country for the first time.

Dr Ugen Dophu said the mammography machine would improve women’s health by detecting breast cancer at an early and curable stage thereby reducing the death due to breast cancer.

Gelephu and Mongar regional referral hospitals will also receive a 16-slice CT scan machine each.

Besides the CT scan machines, a spirometer to measure the air capacity of lungs and an Electrocardiogram (ECG) Holter System to monitor the heart will be given to the Monger regional referral hospital while Gelephu hospital will receive a digital X-ray machine.

Dr Ugen Dophu said that currently all patients from across the country are referred to JDWNRH for CT scan. “The increasing number of patients referred to the national referral hospital annually for the CT scan has overwhelmed the workload of the radiologist at the hospital, ultimately resulting in the increase in the patients’ waiting time.”

Further, Dr Ugen Dophu said the geographical terrain of the country causes an unnecessary delay for patients requiring urgent CT scan. “Our health policy strongly subscribes to the values and principles of universal health coverage and primary health care approach.”

Sustaining the level of progress made this far while initiating further improvements in both public health and clinical services is the challenge, Dr Ugen Dophu said.

He said health system continues to face challenges like shortage of health workforce and escalation of health expenditures due to increased demand and the emergence of Non-Communicable Diseases. “We are happy that the Government of Japan has identified the health sector as one of the priority sectors and has decided to render assistance.”

Acknowledging the Japanese government for its previous assistance to the health sector, Dr Ugen Dophu said a total of 55 ambulances were provided to the health ministry under the Grant Aid. Further, the Japanese government has been supporting the health ministry with Japanese health volunteers every year.

Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu said the Japanese government would continue to make every effort to promote this wide-ranging friendship and cooperation with Bhutan.

The ambassador said in Bhutan people living in rural areas make extra efforts to get a medical diagnosis because they need to travel through mountainous regions. “So, enhancement of diagnostic services in regional referral hospitals is of critical importance.”

After the medical equipment are delivered to the regional referral hospitals, a Japanese doctor and radiologic technologist will provide technical training to the staff of the three hospitals at the national referral hospital in Thimphu.

“I like to continue our cooperation towards Bhutan in the medical sector such as through technical training and maintenance of medical equipment in order to enable the use of this equipment in an efficient manner.” The ambassador said.

The ambassador said these machinery and equipment are proof of the friendship that exists between Japan and Bhutan. “We wish it can be used and maintained effectively for as long as possible. I hope this project will become another shining example of our strong bond.”

Health ministry’s Department of Medical Services’ director general, Dr Pandup Tshering, said the support that the government of Japan provided to the health ministry has immensely contributed to the improvement of the health of Bhutanese people.

“We are confident the equipment will further improve the diagnostic services and thus contribute to improving the quality of care that we provide to our patients,” Dr Pandup Tshering said.

Dechen Tshomo