Bhutan calls for technical stewardship and resources

Health Secretary Dr. Pandup Tshering addressed the first round of the Ministerial Round Table 

Representing health minister, Health Secretary delivers Bhutan’s intervention at the 74th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for South-East Asia

LHAKPA TSHERING

Thimphu

At the recently concluded 74th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for South-East Asia, Bhutan called upon the United Nations agencies and the international development partners to provide the much-needed technical stewardship and resources.

The call comes in a bid to ensure that countries are quickly getting back on track towards achieving the critical global goals for a brighter, happier, and healthier world.

This was noted by the Health Secretary Dr. Pandup Tshering while representing Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo during the ministerial roundtable virtual meeting on Bhutan’s intervention for Covid-19 and measures to build back better essential health services.

“We must dwell on the lessons learned from the pandemic and design a robust and adaptive strategy to reignite our momentum towards meeting the health targets enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Concerning the situation, he said, there is an urgent need to prioritize and enhance investments in the health workforce, health infrastructure, safe and timely access to medical supplies.

This, he said, was in enhancing emergency preparedness systems to ensure uninterrupted essential health services particularly in the least developed countries (LDCs) and low and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

In addition, Dr. Pandup Tshering emphasized that there is a need to ensure the health systems are resilient and robust enough to respond to the unforeseen challenges of the future. 

“We need to redesign and strengthen primary health care (PHC) oriented health systems to achieve universal health coverage and national health objectives with particular focus on health equity, and explore means to ensure access to quality health services for unreached and vulnerable populations,” he added.

He further said the pandemic has taught the world that systemic improvements extending beyond just the health sector are required for countries and governments to effectively navigate paths towards achieving common universal targets related to essential health services.

Turning to Bhutan, he described the essential health services delivery as a part of the overall Covid-19 response strategy, informing the member countries that the recent assessment showed little or no effect of the pandemic on essential health services delivery in the country.

“This, I believe, was ascertained through three key strategies: a strong adherence to Covid-19 protocols in all health facilities, and the establishment of flu clinics and remote health consultation facilities which provided the vital additional layer of safety,” he said. 

While Bhutan has done considerably well because of the demographic advantage it possesses, Dr. Pandup Tshering said, there is much more to achieve.

“It is now time to look ahead to explore innovative ways and to regather and strengthen efforts towards achieving the sustainable development goals and universal health coverage at all levels in the region and across the globe,” he said.

Bhutan’s Covid-19 success story

Bhutan has been highly successful in fighting Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic with the integrated, robust response that includes rigorous screening, established a robust contact tracing and quarantine system to effectively intervene in early transmission of Covid-19.

It emerged as a country with one of the lowest Covid-19 case counts in the world and the solidarity in public reflected a proud vision that succeeded in containing the spread of the virus.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo in her opening remarks said that Bhutan’s response to Covid-19 is through a whole-of-society approach. 

“His Majesty the King continues to lead with compassion and wisdom while ensuring no individuals and families in Bhutan face any health, economic and social hardship because of the pandemic,” she said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Lyonpo said, Bhutan’s approach has always been to strike the right balance between maintaining the provision of essential health care services and fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lyonpo also acknowledged the role played by the WHO, many bilateral and multilateral partners in supporting the pandemic preparedness and response efforts.

Despite many challenges related to accessing vaccines for the people, Lyonpo said, over 90 percent of the eligible Bhutanese population has been covered for both first and second doses and committed to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

In addition, Lyonpo also shared her concerns that only 75 percent of the vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries, globally. “This is a clear indication to further strengthen global solidarity. Acting collectively is the only way out of this pandemic,” she said.

At the second round of intervention delivery, Health Secretary Dr. Pandup Tshering said despite scarce resources and a nascent health system, Bhutan managed to navigate around the challenges posed by the pandemic in ensuring the continuous and seamless delivery of essential health services.

“In such unprecedented and unpredictable times, Bhutan found our answers in unique but simple strategies,” he continued, adding to forge an exceptional response to the pandemic by combining the powers of science and logic, along with exceptional solidarity from all sections of society.

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