Not long ago, HIV/AIDs was labelled  the “killer disease” or the “deadly disease.” The tag must have been an awareness campaign tool to warn people. The disease, transmitted through many means including sexually, was at its peak and people had to be warned.

Today, there are many killer diseases and HIV/AIDs is probably not as deadly as we made it in the initial days. There are treatments and medicines that allow people infected with the disease to live normal lives. There are many “killer” diseases or medical conditions that if not kill you, destroy you mentally today. 

Stroke is one.

According to available data, cases of stroke are on the rise. According to medical records with the national referral hospital, there were 876 stroke patients between 2021 and October 2023. There were 316 cases in 2021, which increased to 332 cases in 2022.

Although not vetted with scientific studies, the Bhutan Stroke Foundation, going by the trend is seeing an increasing number of stroke cases. Officials said they are registering at least two to three cases a week with an increasing trend after the Covid-19 pandemic. A  scientific or research is required to confirm the increasing number, but if stroke is related to lifestyle, the assumption could be true.

From a regular stroke risk assessment involving about 94 people in Thimphu on Monday, 54 or 57.4 percent were found to be at high risk, meaning they were obese, hypertensive, or had other health conditions and family history. This is a concern. If the Foundation could do more assessment, the results could provide an indication.

Stroke like many medical conditions are attributed to our lifestyle. The root causes, when assessed, are our habits. Smoking, drinking, sedentary lifestyle and being overweight are some of the causes, which are preventable if people are aware of the risk. Simple tweaking in our food and leisure habits could play a role in preventing stroke, which globally is the number five cause of death and the number one cause of disability.

Unlike other conditions, stroke, according to those who had first-hand experience, is a burden in many ways. Besides the treatment and the cost, a stroke patient at home is a burden on the family not only for the care required, but the pressure on the family. Some had sacrificed their means of livelihood to care for the patient. 

Given the lack of care and the burden on the family, stroke is a condition that could be best prevented. Stroke can be prevented with the right awareness. The burden is not as heavy as living with it. If we can and if there are ways, we have to prevent people from being victims. Those who experienced it say that the cost of treatment, care and the stress is not even one percent of awareness.

Unfortunately, our focus is always on curative and not so much on prevention. If we can prevent even a single person from a brain attack (stroke), it will save the government, and the family from the social and economic burden.

The Bhutan Stroke Foundation is under pressure. Notwithstanding their contribution, it risks closure if it cannot fulfil the status of a Civil Service Organisation – a Nu 4 million endowment fund to qualify as a CSO. What they do to save lives is inconsiderate. If an awareness or risk assessment can save one life, it is worth more than the endowment fund!