For a Healthy Drukyul

PEMA TSHOMO
Thimphu

The government unveiled the “Healthy Drukyul” Programme (HD), a multi-billion-dollar initiative designed to significantly improve the health and well-being of its citizens.

This programme marks a paradigm shift in Bhutan’s healthcare landscape, promising a future with universal access to high-quality preventive and curative services, alongside a robust focus on preventive measures to combat the rise of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The HD program, with a budget of Nu 20 billion, adopts a holistic approach, emphasizing collaboration between various stakeholders.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) will spearhead the initiative, working closely with a diverse range of partners including the National Medical Services (NMS), the PEMA Secretariat, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science of Bhutan (KGUMSB), the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC), and Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), among others.

This extensive collaboration ensures a comprehensive approach that addresses healthcare needs from various angles.

The program prioritizes three key strategies to achieve its goals. The first strategy focuses on strengthening the healthcare governance system and delivery services.

The MoH and NMS aim to address the evolving needs of the population by improving clinical services management and strategically expanding essential and specialized healthcare services.  A core aspect of this strategy is the development of a competent and well-equipped health workforce.

The program acknowledges the importance of retaining skilled professionals and proposes investments in professional development, creating supportive work environments, and fostering career advancement opportunities.  Ensuring timely access to medical supplies, vaccines, and functional medical equipment across all health facilities is another key focus area.

The program also emphasizes streamlining patient referral pathways to optimize the utilization of existing healthcare infrastructure. In a forward-thinking approach, the HD program embraces innovative approaches to deliver high-quality, people-centered healthcare services.

This includes leveraging ICT-based digital solutions to improve regulatory frameworks, enhance health security measures, and regulate Sorig wellness services, Bhutan’s unique traditional medicine system.

The program acknowledges the potential for private sector involvement in the health sector and explores ways to integrate it while maintaining high-quality public health services for all citizens.

The second strategy of the HD program prioritizes investments in cost-effective preventive and promotional healthcare. Recognizing the financial and administrative burden that NCDs pose on the healthcare system, the program emphasizes proactive measures to identify and eliminate health risks.

This includes interventions like immunization programs, health screenings, and educational campaigns promoting healthy lifestyles.

A crucial aspect of this strategy is combating NCDs, which are expected to be significantly reduced through these preventive measures.  The program anticipates a decrease in hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and expensive treatments for advanced stages of diseases, leading to a more cost-effective and sustainable healthcare system.

To create an environment conducive to healthy habits, the HD program adopts a “whole of society” approach. This collaborative effort involves promoting the significance of physical activity, healthy eating habits, and mental well-being. 

The program plans to enhance access to recreational facilities and implement “healthy city” concepts to encourage physical activity and healthy living.  Furthermore, it aims to improve access to safe and nutritious food through evidence-based interventions that address both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive needs. 

Further, the program recognizes the potential of digital health and plans to strengthen health information and communication for improved healthcare services. This will involve harnessing the power of digital communication and social media for health promotion, along with adopting ICT-enabled case-based surveillance for infectious diseases. 

Additionally, the program proposes evidence-based interventions to reduce NCD risk factors and manage existing chronic diseases. Special considerations will be given to ensuring the well-being of senior citizens, people with disabilities, and those living with chronic illnesses.

This includes providing palliative care and ensuring access to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health services.

The program also acknowledges the threat of infectious diseases and proposes measures to prevent, control, and eliminate them while safeguarding communities from the growing challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

The final strategy of the HD program focuses on rationalizing health facilities to optimize service delivery. This strategy involves a comprehensive assessment of existing healthcare infrastructure, considering factors such as population size, improvements in road connectivity, and the potential of digital health solutions.

The objective is to enhance accessibility and quality of healthcare services while optimizing resource allocation and prioritizing individual needs. This strategic consolidation and expansion plan includes the construction of the Thimphu District Hospital, a National Cancer and Transplant Center at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital Thimphu, and a Mother and Child Hospital in Mongar.

In other regions, the program will consider factors like disease burden, population migration patterns, and road network improvements to strategically rationalize health facilities, ensuring resources are directed towards areas with the greatest need.

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