Yangyel Lhaden

An average of five persons suffering from stroke visit Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital every week, according to health officials. The hospital treats between 15 and 20 stroke patients in a month.

Many Bhutanese do not know about the dangers of stroke and take the symptoms lightly, according to health officials and those dealing with stroke patients.

Wangchuk, a stroke survivor and former taxi driver, experienced facial paralysis in 2012 due to rise in his blood pressure. Doctors told him to control his diet. He continued with his usual lifestyle.

“Being a driver, I used to get free food, a special delicacy with a lot of fats and meat. I even used to drink,” he said.

Four years later, he suffered a stroke while driving and it has paralysed his whole left body since then. Wangchuk smashed the brakes in time to save his passengers.

He was unaware of stroke until he got it. He said that he took the signs and symptoms lightly. “I urge everyone not to take even a headache lightly, it could be a symptom of stroke.”

“All my savings went into performing rituals that could otherwise have been used for better treatment outside the country. The rituals and modern medication should go together.”

However, Wangchuk is not alone. Most Bhutanese delay treatment investing on religious ceremonies.

Health officials said one of the factors to treat stroke patient was reaching hospital in stipulated time but there were many factors and pre-assessment before the injection, tissue plasminogen activator is given to patient.

“Not every stroke patient would be eligible for this injection,” a health official said.

The Founder of Bhutan Stroke Foundation, Dawa Tshering said, “A stroke patient if they can reach hospital within four and half hours their lives could be saved.”

Dawa Tshering said that budget was a challenge for his organisation. The lack of expertise and lack of knowledge to look after stroke survivors were other challenges stroke patients faced.

“A stroke survivor is most of the time confined at home,” he said.

Health ministry’s senior programme officer, Kinley Wangchuk said there was no neurologist in the country who is needed to examine stroke patients. “Country is in developing stage and cannot afford advanced services. The best we can do is focus on preventive measures.”

He said that as leading cause of stroke was hypertension, they advocated about healthy diet but it boiled down to individuals’ behaviour whether to eat right food or not. “ In nine districts service with care and compassion is established to screen such as hypertension, obesity, alcohol and smoke consumption for lifestyle diseases.”

Kinley Wangchuk said that in regional hospitals tissue plasminogen activator is distributed.

He said that a single injection is about Nu 60,000 and it is not available in district hospitals owing to the lack of CT scans. “He said that gradually services to cater to stroke patients would improve.”