Yangyel Lhaden

Samtse marked World Health Day yesterday by hosting a marathon race aimed at raising awareness about non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and encouraging physical activity. Approximately 500 participants joined the 10-kilometre run.

In its 76th year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated “My Health, My Right” as the theme for World Health Day 2024, which focuses on essential human entitlement to quality healthcare, education, and information.

NCDs, commonly referred to as lifestyle diseases, are health conditions triggered by unhealthy lifestyle choices and habits. In Bhutan, diseases linked to lifestyle, such as diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, are increasingly prevalent.

According to the annual health bulletin for 2023, the country witnessed a significant rise in diabetes cases over the years. In 2018, there were 5,716 reported cases of diabetes, which escalated to 12,373 cases in 2022, marking an increase of approximately 3,000 cases compared to 2021. Hypertension cases also saw an uptick from 24,977 cases in 2018 to 25,770 cases in 2022.

The WHO Representative to Bhutan, Dr Bhupinder Kar Aulakh, emphasied the crucial role of individuals in taking of their own health. “It is important to adopt healthy habits such as eating rights, regular exercise, and making lifestyle changes to reduce the burden of NCDs”

She also highlighted the importance of multisectoral engagement and a whole-of-government approach to promote health effectively.

Education Minister Yeezang Dee Thapa said that there was need for policies and environment to ensure all individuals lead healthy, productive lives, regardless of their backgrounds or geographical locations.

In Thimphu, around 200 participants availed themselves of health screening services concerning NCDs at the Memorial Choeten to mark World Health Day. These services were facilitated by the Apollo Bhutan Institute of Nursing and the Bhutan Stroke Foundation.

Among the participants, roughly 30 individuals were classified as “high-risk” for stroke and were recommended to seek further evaluation at hospitals.

Medical records from JDWNRH indicate a total of 876 stroke patients from 2021 to October 2023. In 2021, there were 316 cases, which rose to 332 cases in 2022.

The statistics further reveal that men are disproportionately affected by stroke compared to women. Additionally, even children as young as 1 to 5 years old could potentially experience stroke.

Executive director of the Bhutan Stroke Foundation, Dawa Tshering, said that with the increasing cases of stroke in the country, many individuals are seeking post-stroke services from the Foundation.

“Due to our limited budget, we are unable to offer comprehensive services to stroke patients. Therefore, we primarily focuses on raising awareness and advocating for stroke prevention and treatment.”

Currently, Bhutan Stroke Foundation can provide services to between 70 and 80 percent of those who have recovered and are able to walk. The Foundation offers physiotherapy and mild exercises, as well as a bakery for them to learn cooking. 

“At the centre of our services is family counseling to take care of stroke patients and peer support among stroke patients,” Dawa Tshering said.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for global efforts towards sustainable development, offering a substantial opportunity to tackle the social, economic, and political determinants impacting health. By addressing these factors, we can enhance the overall health and well-being of people worldwide.