Medical: Bhutan achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. However, much more remains to be done to end preventable maternal, newborn and child mortality.

Between 2010 and 2015, some 71 mothers lost their lives during child birth or immediately around the event, WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office family health, gender and life course department’s director, Dr Pem Namgyal said during the inaugural of the second International Conference on Medical and Health Sciences, yesterday.

“Irrespective of the level of mortality, the fact remains that mothers are still dying. This should not be the case,” he said.

Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) hosts the conference every year to enable researchers in the country and from outside as well to come together to share professional experiences, build networks and update on developments in the field of medicine, nursing and allied health sciences.

The conference’s theme this year is: “Celebrating Mother and Child Health.”

Dr Pem Namgyal said that it is important to better understand why women are still dying during childbirth and then put in appropriate measures to minimise preventable maternal deaths.

One in three children in Bhutan are stunted. This is a paradox in a small country where extreme poverty does not exist. But it is clear that chronic hunger stalks one third of our future generations, he added. “It is vitally important to address the issue because malnutrition has intergenerational impacts that perpetuates the cycle of poor health of a mother and her offspring.”

He said that poor nutrition before and during pregnancy is harmful for both the mother and child. Poor nutrition therefore carries its impact throughout the life course, from an underweight baby to a stunted early childhood to a malnourished teen who goes on then to become pregnant and ultimately become a malnourished mother, and the vicious cycle repeats.

Ensuring quality of care, evidence-based policy and the importance of data, and collaborating with other players beyond the health sector are some of the actions that can be taken both at the government as well as at the health ministry level to address the issues, he said

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that the health and wellbeing of mothers and children are very important as it reflects the current health status of individuals, families and the nation as a whole.

Bhutan’s under-five mortality rate has been reduced to 37.3 per 1,000 live births, infant mortality rate reduced to 30 per 1,000 live births and proportion of Children covered under the immunisation programme to 95.1 percent.

Maternal mortality ratio is reduced to 86 per 100,000 live births, while skilled health personnel attend about 74.6 percent of births.

Despite the achievements, Lyonpo said that much more remains to be done to further reduce morbidity of mother and child associated with issues of adolescent health, pregnancy, infections and malnutrition, among others.

“The work of the health sector does not end with the MDGs,” Lyonpo said. “We must strive hard in realising the SDGs. Bhutan is fully committed in taking forward the SDGs through the current five-year plan as well as the next five-year plan cycle.”

Lyonpo said that healthcare in Bhutan, being a free public service, it is important that the services provided are appropriate, effective and efficient to be able to sustain the health system and achieve Gross National Happiness. “In order to ensure this, policies and strategies need to be based on evidences informed by research.”

Quality improvement and illness, and management of mother and child health, health systems and medical education, emerging infectious diseases and alternate medicine (traditional medicine), among others, are some of the topics that will be discussed during the two-day conference at the Royal University of Bhutan’s convention hall.

KGUMSB’s president, Dr Kinzang P Tshering, said that the conference gives an opportunity to take stock of the progress the health sector had made so far in the field of mother and child health as well as to identify challenges and gaps, and find ways to address them.

Three books, ‘Materia Medica on Low Altitude Medicinal Plants of Bhutan,’ Bhutan health journal and a conference Abstract booklet, were launched during the inaugural session yesterday.

More than 300 participants from Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital, KGUMSB, dzongkhag health officials, including international delegations from United States, China, Hongkong, Canada and Bangladesh among others will be attending the conference.

Dechen Tshomo