Health: A centre of excellence on health and disease prevention and control in the country, the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) was inaugurated yesterday at Serbithang in Thimphu.

Built at a cost of Nu 320M under the Project Tied Assistance from Government of India, the centre is a new version of the Public Health Laboratory in Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital.

The centre will generate reliable scientific information on health and diseases to ensure well-informed policies and promote effective and sustainable public health interventions.

The main facility of the centre is the bio-safety level-3 laboratory, a highly specialized laboratory constructed in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines. The lab prevents any leakages of air from the lab to the ambient.  It is a place that will handle highly pathogenic viruses, such as Ebola.

At the inaugural and consecration ceremony, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Gautam Bambawale said the public health laboratory that was functioning from four crammed rooms at JDWNRH would now function as a sign of excellence in disease control for the country.

Health secretary Dr Dorji Wangchuk said highly qualified people would run the laboratory. However, currently only 40 laboratory staff specialised in tuberculosis, HIV, water including some virologists are working at the lab.

The three-storied structure can accommodate at least 400 employees but the human resource capacity will be increased depending on emerging need and work at hand, he said.

“We need to have equipment, instrument, tools and skilled professional to do disease protection,” he said. “For that we’ll do progressive staffing.”

Although figures were not available, Dr Dorji Wangchuk said a lot of expenditure was incurred in sending disease sample to other countries for testing. Additionally sending samples outside required an understanding on the patent ownership.

For instance, he said, pharmaceutical industries around the world today are looking for bacteria found in human intestines that have never been exposed to medicines or antibiotics. Such bacteria can be found in few Bhutanese who have never taken medicines and RCDC would study them and patent it.

The lab is highly restricted for non-staff. Its ground floor hosts cold storage.

Meanwhile director of department of medical supplies and health infrastructure, Sonam Jamtsho said the laboratory was planned in the ninth plan but was differed to 10th Plan due to lack of technical support.

With the functioning of the laboratory, Bhutan is the fourth country in the SAARC region to have a bio-safety level-3 laboratory.

Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale and health minister Tandin Wangchuk formally inaugurated the Centre.

Nirmala Pokhrel