Exactly a decade ago, a Kuensel editorial warned the people about the hazards of a good life. New trend of health problems that doctors call lifestyle disease were just beginning to emerge.
The editorial called for awareness as the cheapest and the most viable solution – awareness at an early stage. Ten years later, the health facilities are overwhelmed with rising cases of non-communicable diseases. High on the list is chronic kidney disease.
There is treatment for the disease, but it is draining the hospitals’ resources. But we are fortunate to be in a system where welfare of the people receives the highest priority. This includes saving them from the jaws of death. Many would not have the hope of a kidney transplant had it not been for our free medical system.
This will continue. So will the pressure on the health if quick and cheap solutions are not explored. The effort is there. Besides awareness campaigns, the government has been building outdoor gyms at many locations to encourage people to lead a healthy life.
The scene at the national referral hospital shows the extent. On days when bloods are tested for sugar levels, the hospital is crowded from early morning. The patients do not belong to one category. We have farmers, office goers, monks, and students, almost from every rung of the society. This shows NCD is a big problem. Looking at the trend, the cost will only increase.
The difference now and 10 years ago is that most of us are supposed to be aware. From the trend, we are not. This is evident from the millions of ngultrums spent on saving those who have advanced to the chronic stage. 23 kidney transplants cost the government Nu 20.7 million last year.
Like we say, we can only take the horse to the water, but can’t make it drink. Free kidney transplant is not the solution even if it is cheaper. The focus should still be on prevention. While awareness should continue, prevention efforts should look beyond awareness campaigns or setting up gyms.
Alcohol is recognized as the main cause of many NCDs. We have a policy finally, but implementation is taking time. It is still cheaply available and abusers are increasing. Ban on import is lifted although we produce enough to damage our kidney and the society itself.
On the cost front, there is a general agreement that raising the health contribution a bit will not pinch the salaried group. This is because we do not value the free medical services, including medicines. Not many complete courses doctors prescribe.
There are also discussions that the health contribution should be expanded to others, even to the informal sector to spread the increasing healthcare cost. These are possibilities our decision makers could look into as we stagger under the rising burden.