The country’s referral cases have been rising over the years. Between 2021 and April 2024, the health ministry’s spending on referrals increased from Nu 206.7 million to Nu 529.95 million, an alarming 154.3 percent increase. This increase in expenses should prompt us to reassess how we provide healthcare.

At the heart of this escalating expenditure lies a troubling trend: a substantial portion of referral cases is attributed to diseases that are largely preventable. Lifestyle-related illnesses and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) constitute the bulk of these cases, highlighting the urgent need for a shift towards preventive care.

Investing in preventive care is not just a prudent financial decision; it is a moral imperative and a strategic investment in the long-term health and well-being of our nation. By shifting our focus from curative interventions to proactive measures aimed at preventing diseases before they manifest, we have the opportunity to not only alleviate human suffering but also alleviate the financial burden on our healthcare system.

Health experts agree that investing in preventive care is not only feasible but also highly cost-effective. By allocating resources towards equipping healthcare facilities with the necessary tools and technologies for early detection and intervention, we can significantly reduce the incidence of preventable diseases, thereby curbing the need for costly referrals and specialised treatments.

Prioritising preventive care also aligns with the core principles of Bhutan’s healthcare philosophy. As a nation, we have long recognised the intrinsic value of holistic well-being, placing emphasis on preventive measures, community engagement, and sustainable health practices.

By promoting healthy lifestyles, raising awareness about the importance of regular screenings and early detection, and implementing targeted interventions to address risk factors associated with NCDs, we can empower individuals to take charge of their health and minimise the need for costly medical interventions down the line.

The dividends of investing in preventive care extend far beyond monetary savings. By fostering a culture of health and wellness within our communities, we can enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, and create a more resilient and vibrant society.

As we confront the escalating costs of healthcare and the growing burden of preventable diseases, bold and decisive action must be taken. The government must prioritise preventive care as a cornerstone of our healthcare strategy, allocating resources towards initiatives that promote health promotion, disease prevention, and early intervention.

The rising expenditure on referral cases underscores the urgent need for a fundamental shift in our approach to healthcare delivery. By embracing preventive care as a cornerstone of our healthcare system, we can not only mitigate the financial burden of costly treatments but also foster a healthier, happier, and more resilient society.