The Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS) will start an in country MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) programme to address issues faced by medical students who could not resume their studies in Sri Lanka after protests closed medical institutes except for one since May this year.

Education minister, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk during the meet the press session said it was difficult to acquire seats in countries like Bangladesh, India, and Nepal because of stringent admission policies. “Addressing these issues has become a challenge with immense pressure from their own students,” he said. “Therefore, the government has asked the ministries of health and education to examine the situation and look for a way forward.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the situation in Sri Lanka has been a concern to the ministry. “Out of 33 doctors that we receive yearly from outside, 25 are from the Sri Lanka. If this situation continues in Sri Lanka there is a risk of medical doctors running short in the country,” he said.

Ministry of Health and the education ministry with relevant stakeholders have formed a task force committee to study the situation closely.

With medical colleges in Sri Lanka unlikely to open because of the continuing protest, the ministries of health and education after consultation submitted a proposal to the Cabinet on September 19 to establish an in-country MBBS programme at KGUMS.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the proposal to start an in country MBBS programme aims to address the situation immediately. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to get an impetus to start an MBBS degree so that we don’t have to depend on different situations that are beyond our control,” he said.

Although the Cabinet has considered the proposal, it issued a letter to the concerned ministries and KGUMS on October 4 to sit together with JDWNRH and discuss the possible risk and consequences JDWNRH would face because of the programme.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that the concerns of the Cabinet were about how JDWNRH could be used as a teaching hospital as it is already one for courses offered by KGUMS.

Around 127 students would join the university if the programme is established and hence the concern of a teaching hospital. The Cabinet discussed JDWNRH exceeding its intake capacity while also looking into the possible way to use specialists as faculty.

The other concern shared by the Cabinet according to the health minister was the possible consequences the training programme would give JDWNRH while providing medical services to the public.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that the ministry hopes to resubmit the proposal soon. “We have many medical students affected by the situation. If we couldn’t retain those medical students, it will be a difficult situation. The country is in need of doctors and it’s important that we start the programme soon. It’s difficult to start the MBBS College, however, we take this situation as an opportunity and it’s everyone’s concern.”

After the Department of Adult and Higher Education asked Bhutanese medical students in Sri Lanka to return home on August 16, more than 70 students came home. While those students are waiting for the situation to improve, some are engaged doing internships.

The protest began on May 17 in Sri Lanka with around 5000 members of the inter-university students federation protesting against the privatisation of education and opening of a private university, South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine.

The situation worsened when doctors affiliated to the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) protested against the police action used against students and demanded the government to close the private medical university.

Sri Lankan media on October 10 reported police firing teargas and water cannons to disperse the anti-SAITM protesters who were protesting and a court order to conduct the protest in a decent and polite manner without causing harm to the public.