With the weather warming up, the number of chilblain cases in Thimphu, Paro, Chukha, Wangdue, Mongar and Zhemgang have decreased. However, there are now calls for heating systems in schools to be improved.

Following the outbreak of chilblains, health officials attributed lack of proper and adequate heating systems as one of the main causes.

A medical official from Paro attributed the outbreak in Betekha Middle Secondary School to an absence of a heating system. “The school did not even have any type of heating system,” the health official said.

Following an assessment, health officials recommended the schools to install heating systems immediately. “We advised the school authority to immediately provide proper heating facility in the school,” the dzongkhag health official said.

Findings from other dzongkhags also attributed the outbreak to lack of heating facilities. “The schools lacked proper heating facilities,” senior dzongkhag health officer, Gopal Hingmang said.

He added that the schools in higher and colder areas like Chukha Central School and Chapcha Milddle Secondary School should be equipped with heating systems. “These schools should be provided with room heaters and traditional heating systems like bukharis,” Gopal Hingmang said.

“A provision must be kept in the 12th Plan to improve the heating system in the schools,” Gopal Hingmang said.

The heating system even in Phobjikha Central School is inadequate though there were reports of students getting chilblain for the past two to three years. A teacher from Phobjikha Central School said that the school has only been able to provide the students with open campfires at night because of a lack of electrical room heaters and bukharis.

The school also has been heating water in traditional hearths after its geysers were rendered useless as a result of power blackouts. The teacher said the school proposed for budget to improve its heating system but it was not approved.

“We have been raising the issue to the dzongkhag and every official possible including the ministers visiting the school on the dire need of having an adequate heating system, but it never materialised,” the teacher said.

However, Department of School Education coordinator of the school reform programme, Kaka Tshering said that the respective dzongkhags should make the proposal to improve the heating system for the schools in their respective areas. “If it is central and autonomous schools, they should do it themselves,” Kaka Tshering said.

Ministry of Education’s policy and planning officiating chief planning officer, Dochu also said that the budget is decentralised to the local government. “The dzongkhags must decide and prioritise if heating systems are where the money needs to be diverted,” Dochu said.

Following the infection some dzongkhags are exploring options to improve heating systems in their schools. Besides sensitising the students on the need to bring warm clothes, Chukha dzongkhag is working on improving heating systems in schools located at higher altitudes like Chapcha.

“Definitely we are looking into possibilities of enhancing heating systems in the schools on the part of the school as well as students,” Chukha dzongkhag chief education officer, Kinley Gyeltshen said.

The schools however are still concerned about the winter. “While the school has coped up well this time, we are worried about the winter,” Wangbama Central School principal, Dorji Wangchuk said.

School authorities said that there is a need to improve heating systems in the schools with the change in the academic session. The schools from this academic session have started from February 4 instead of mid-February, when it is slightly warmer.

While most of the schools experienced the chilblain outbreak for the first time, this year, schools like Phobjikha Central School have been seeing their students getting chilblains for the past few years.

Tempa Wangdi