As the nation is deeply engaged in the election issues, the United Nations – the world’s biggest intergovernmental organisation tasked to promote international co-operation and to create and maintain international order deliberated on measures to address two equally challenging public health issues: tuberculosis (TB) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
These are the health issues that the WHO South-East Asia and the member states have been battling for years. Almost 50 percent of deaths in the region, maybe even more, is caused by TB and NCDs. The region is home to about 29 percent of NCD-related premature mortality in the world.
It was noted at the deliberation that political resolve to tackle NCDs be robust. As per the Colombo Declaration 2016, each member state committed to integrate NCD services at the primary level.
While talks and meetings might happen as scheduled, there is a need to accelerate progress, and promote game-changing innovations at home.
In Bhutan, NCDs have become the biggest health challenge in the recent years. More than five percent of all deaths in the country is attributed to NCDs. The World Bank’s Bhutan NCD policy brief estimates that by 2025, the proportion of ageing population (65 years and above) will increase from 4.4 to 7.3 percent. The prevalence of NCDs could so rise putting pressure on the country’s healthcare cost significantly in the coming years. Health officials say that referral cases and costs, mostly for advanced NCDs, have been doubling over the years. What this means is that as economic growth and modernisation continue to open many doors for the spread of unhealthy lifestyles, sustaining free basic healthcare system will be a major challenge.
The health ministry has proposed that 53 percent of the finance and materials to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) would be at the district level in the 12th Plan. It is a good start. But we can do more because NCDs are preventable. It is critically important that we integrated early detection, screening, and treatment by developing surveillance systems and building capacity of health professionals. Health experts have been warning us that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of taking action on NCDs. Interventions for prevention and control of NCDs that are affordable, therefore, must be put in place with sensible investment.
We already have action plan and targets to reduce incidences of NCDs. For example, we have a target to reduce harmful use of alcohol by five percent by 2020, a percent each year and by 10 percent by 2025. Yet, at the same time, alcohol-manufacturing houses in the country have been increasing by the year.
How and why are we losing these perspectives?