Health: In recognition for the commitment and efforts made by the health ministry to have successfully eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region (SEAR) awarded a certificate of appreciation to Bhutan on September 6.

Health ministry’s director general with the Department of Traditional Medicine, Dorjee Tshering received the award on behalf of the Royal Government and the health minister during the 69th session of the WHO South-East Asia Regional Committee meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Regional director for WHO SEAR, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that countries within the region have made remarkable progress in the area of maternal and child health in recent years.

Between 1990 and 2015, child mortality was reduced by 64 percent while maternal mortality was reduced by 69 percent as compared to the global average of 52 percent and 44 percent respectively.

Despite the impressive decline in maternal and child mortality, the region could not meet Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 4 and 5 to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent and child mortality by 67 percent.

“Much remains to be done to ensure equitable access to quality services and further reduce preventable deaths,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.

Expanding the health workforce and training more skilled birth attendants are some of the immediate measures to prevent maternal and child mortality.

Currently, the density of health care providers in the region is 12.5 per 10,000 people, which is far less than the WHO recommended minimum of 44.5 per 10,000.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that efforts to achieve universal health coverage by expanding access to quality services will also prove vital to ending preventable maternal, newborn and child mortality.

“Robust and effective maternal, perinatal and newborn death surveillance and response will further strengthen accountability mechanisms and improve quality of care,” Dr Khetrapal Singh added.

Health ministers and representatives from the 11 member states pledged to achieve outstanding Millennium Development Goals related to maternal and child health.

The ministers and the representatives resolved to ensure sustained efforts to bring the maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, under-five mortality to 25 per 1,000 live births and the neonatal mortality rate to below 12 per 100 live births by 2030.

Although Bhutan has achieved the MDG 4 target for infant and under-five mortality rate, the number of babies dying within their first 28 days after birth still remains a concern in most dzongkhags.

The target was to have zero deaths while each dzongkhag reported about two to 15 mortality deaths last year.

Besides lack of pediatricians, birth complications, infections, late reporting to hospital, teenage mothers, socio-cultural factors and congenital deformities, among others were reasons attributed for infant deaths in the country.

Bhutan’s infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births stood at 47 in 2010, while it dropped to 30 in 2012 and further declined to 27 last year.

The Annual Health Bulletin 2015 also shows a slight decrease in neonatal deaths. In 2012, there were 91 neonatal deaths. In 2013, it dropped to 72, further declining to 62 last year.

Of the 11 countries, seven have attained their respective MDGs 4. The SEA region achieved the greatest decline in maternal mortality among all the WHO regions.

In recognition of their remarkable and sustained role in the public health gains of their countries, the WHO SEAR conferred the Excellence in Public Health awards to the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena and the Ministry of Public Health of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on September 5, the first day of the meeting.

Besides a number of policy and technical issues, the delegation from the 11 member countries deliberated the Colombo Declaration on strengthening health systems to accelerate delivery of NCD services at the primary healthcare level during the five-day meeting, which will end today.

The Regional Committee meeting is WHO SEA region’s highest decision-making body, where health priorities, challenges and opportunities for the region for the next 12 months are discussed and decided upon.

Dechen Tshomo