Devika Pradhan, Tsirang | Intern

For more than a decade, 78-year-old Ganga Prasad Gurung, a diabetic patient from Tashiding in Dagana had been constantly travelling to Thimphu for regular medical checkups and follow-ups. It was an expensive journey.

It is a different experience now. With the Dagapela hospital becoming the fifth hospital in the country to start the Service with Care and Compassion Initiative (SCCI) in October of last year, Ganga Prasad Gurung and many others suffering from non-communicable diseases in the dzongkhag are overjoyed. They can now avail health care services throughout the week without having to wait for Wednesdays and Fridays, as was the case in the past.

SCCI is Bhutan’s adaption of the World Health Organisation’s PEN-Hearts technical package, that is patient-centric. A dietician with the hospital, Prem Kumar Neopaney said that under the package, the service providers look into the patient’s health background, family history, and lifestyle choices, and then provide treatment and counselling. At the triage, every visitor above 18 years is screened for Body Mass Index (BMI) and hypertension.

“There were no diagnostic criteria in the past, but with the implementation of SCCI, there is the standardisation of diagnostic criteria and differences in the treatment protocol,” said the dietician.

Accordingly, the patients are advised about their daily lifestyle habits and the related risks. For instance, if a person comes with dental problems, he or she is screened for other health conditions at the triage.

“With this new initiative, we can visit the hospital any day at our convenience,” Ganga Ram Prasad said, adding that in the past patients had to wait for hours to get even the basic services.

A chronic diabetic patient from Kana, Krishna Bir Suberi’s conditions have improved with the new initiative. Krishna Bir is still cautious about his diet and has cut down on many unhealthy foods.

“We don’t have to wait, unlike in the past,” says the 65-year-old patient.

Under the package, home-bound patients also have access to healthcare services. This, the patients said, has helped them save time and money.

As of January 5, 2,671 patients above 18 years have been screened for diseases and 167 patients were given counselling and interventions related to substance abuse. There were 429 cases of non-communicable diseases registered with the SCCI focal at the hospital.

The hospital administration plans to carry out an evaluation of the service at the end of March.

The service providers, who were trained for more than four months, Prem Kumar Neopaney, said they are still in the learning stage even as they implement the initiative. He, however, said that the initiative will include suicide prevention strategies as it is one of the emerging challenges in the country.

The initiative was first piloted in Tsirang, Wangdue, Punakha, and Zhemgang hospitals.