Integrated health screening for elderly citizens on the cards

Now, elderly people who visit the nearest health centers can undergo holistic medical screening. The service enables the health workers to identify various medical complications through different procedures without having the patients to travel long distances unnecessarily.

Until now, most of the health staffs particularly in the remote areas have been treating the particular complaints or the diseases. Ministry of Health in collaboration with Royal Society for Elderly Citizens (RSSC) completed a three-day ‘Training of Trainers’ (ToT) workshop yesterday in Phuentsholing with around 30 health workers, specialists and doctors from across the country with 12 resource persons including a specialist from Integrated Care for Older People (ICOPE). They will now train other health workers of their respective dzongkhags on holistic medical screening. The workshop also aims to integrate the existing practices of elderly health care with the ICOPE’s guidelines in the country.

The screening would help in the early detection of diseases and abnormalities where immediate action on prevention and care could be taken. It is found that most of the elderly people are reluctant to reveal their problems to the health workers and thus sicknesses remain undetected.

The health workers, after identification of the diseases will refer to other centers with better facilities. “It can prevent further spreading of the diseases and offer timely treatment,” said Tashi Phuntsho, Program Officer from Ministry of Health.         

Ageing, being inevitable, ICOPE under World Health Organization (WHO), has framed guidelines to preserve elderly people’s intrinsic capacities to be equally functional and contribute to the family and societies even in their old age. It is expected to reduce burdens to the family members and keep them relatively free of diseases and old age complications. Now, these practices will also be integrated with the Bhutanese existing practice of taking care of elderly people, Dr Ramesh Kandel, Geriatrician from ICOPE based in New Delhi, India said.

Bhutan is the first South Asian countries to implement the guidelines of ICOPE. WHO introduced the ICOPE concept in October this year. It is to be implemented by 11 member states under South East Asian region. “It is easier for Bhutan to start implementing as the country already has elderly health care practices. We are just integrating it. It will be more refined and holistic which will be highly effective for the country,” Dr. Ramesh Kandel said.

Health workers and professionals can use various methods including mobile application to examine overall health status of the elderly people. ICOPE has launched the application which can be used by the health workers to determine the type of diseases particularly mental stress.

Trainees have also learnt methods to examine the elderly people making them comfortable to reveal their problems.           

A Health Assistant from Migtana BHU in Wangdue said that the new approach of holistic examination would help the elderly people in getting better and timely treatment. “Until now, we have been treating specific diseases but now we will practice this method. It is our responsibility to preserve their intrinsic capacity,” Yeshi Dorji said.

RSSC’s Vice President, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji said that the integrated health screening will be a revolutionary move helping the elderly citizens. “This is the beginning and we can look forward towards health workers helping the elderly citizens,” Lyonpo said.

Statistics from National Statistical Bureau in 2017 said that around 18% of elderly citizens face financial crisis, 30% suffer from poor shelter, 26% suffer from lack of food self-sufficiency. 15% of elderly citizens in the country are landless and another 15%, debt ridden. 18% fear hunger and 71% of elderly citizens fear sickness and death in the country. RSSC feels the situation and living standard of elderly citizens are a growing concern.

With the increasing number of retiring civil servants including armed forces and corporate employees annually, it is felt necessary to provide better services to them. There are more than 4,000 pensioners across the country today. RSSC through its membership provides required services to its members. There are around 300 members registered with the organization currently.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing