One of the main reasons is limited production hours which could be solved if the govt. pays for overtime

Medical: Traditional hospitals in the central region have been facing a shortage of essential medicines for quite sometime now.

The issue was raised by the drungtshos of Sarpang, Dagana, Tsirang, Zhemgang, Bumthang and Trongsa, who had gathered at Tsirang for a three-day coordination meeting.

In addition to a limited variety of traditional medicines supplied to the districts, the quantity supplied is also limited.

Representing the central regional hospitals, Dagapela’s drungtsho, Kuenzang Norbu, said that the problem arises as they do not receive drugs on time when the stock runs out in stores. “Though we’ve other varieties, it is essential drugs that runs in short supply,” he said.

He explained that patients, across the country want traditional medicines mostly for neurological (tshakhar) problems. With an increasing number of patients seeking traditional medicines, stocks are usually depleted before the next supply arrives, requiring dzongkhags to share the medicines.

“In absence of essential medicines we sometimes give an alternative treatment such as therapies or prescribe an alternative drugs but which are not as effective,” Kuenzang Norbu said.

Department of Traditional Medicine Services director general Dorji Tshering explained that the department does have enough equipment to produce medicines but the production capacity is limited. For a total annual requirement of about 30 metric tonnes (MT) of medicines, currently only about eight to 10 MT is being produced.

Moreover, the present working schedule or machine operation timing has limited the number of hours between 9am to 4pm during winter and 9am to 5pm in summer.

The department’s plan to set up a new factory at Gidakom in the current Plan has been pushed to next because of the insufficient budget. Once, established, the new factory is expected to produce at least 20-30MT of medicines.

“We could increase the machine operation hours if the government supports us financially in paying overtime for employees,” he said. He added that increasing operation hours will increase production to 15-20MT which will address the drug shortage to a certain extent.

The shortage is also partially a result of non-availability of raw materials, which highlanders do not find profitable to collect. The price for herbs collected are bought at cheap prices. For instance a kilogramme of jagaypoe is bought at Nu 150. The price was raised by 300 percent recently but the collection still has not improved. The low price has discouraged highlanders from collecting herbs and focus on picking cordyceps instead.

Health officials at the coordination meeting also raised concerns on the sustainability of herbs. To make herbs available for the future, the traditional medicines department has already started domesticating some herbs.

“Some herbs are on the verge of extinction, for which we need proper planning to preserve them,” the director general said.

Should the school herbal garden initiative pick up, it is expected to help the department in producing medicines.

By Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang