Land availability a major challenge for introduction of MBBS program

Sources say there are possibilities of relocating the RBP headquarters in order to provide space for KGUMSB in the pipeline

One of the most important components of the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) is the introduction of the MBBS (Bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery) program under the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science (KGUMSB) here in Thimphu.  

While there is less than a year for the 12th FYP to end, those responsible for the program are optimistic that the program would be introduced by next year as targeted.

However, there are certain challenges, one of which is the lack of space, with the campus of KGUMSB and the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) already filled with structures. Additionally, sources say location hunting has begun and that the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) headquarters may be relocated and the area given to KGUMSB

Speaking to the paper, the Director of the University, Dr. Sithar Dorji said that an immediate requirement is the expansion of the current university location to accommodate additional faculties, students, and staff for the new program.

“Groundworks, such as preparation of the curriculum and other modalities are being carried out,” he said, adding that while there are currently no additional classrooms or spaces available for the new program, other locations are being considered.

The Director also said that the Covid-19 outbreak has vividly underlined the importance of having an adequate number of health specialists in the country. In terms of budget, the university’s director explained that at the moment, they are only working on infrastructure and that the government will eventually decide the budget.  

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo also mentioned the lack of available space as one of the main hurdles. She added that for the time being, (JDWNRH) area will serve as the campus location.

As the hunt for an appropriate location continues, the JDWNRH will also be used as a teaching hospital as needed for the course to be implemented. By doing so it can also capitalize on resources, such as facilities and human resources.

However, sources close to Business Bhutan said that there are preliminary plans being formulated in order to solve the issue of space. “There is a possibility of shifting the entire Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) campus, which is adjacent to JDWNRH to the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) campus at Lungtenphu. The RBA campus will be relocated,” he said, adding that these plans are just in the pipeline. “Nothing concrete has been decided as of now,” he said.

Meanwhile, the scarcity of medical specialists in the country has been a long issue. According to the annual health bulletin 2021, there are 140 doctors as medical superintendents, chief medical officers, medical officers, and general duties medical officers in the country today. 122 are medical specialists. Doctors and specialists are also recruited from other countries like Bangladesh.

Annually, about 50 Class XII students receive government scholarships to pursue MBBS programs in countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are also a few students who pursue the course privately and through other scholarships.

In this context, Director Sithar said that Bhutanese have been traveling to countries like Sri Lanka and India to pursue MBBS. “The introduction of MBBS in the country will be a great learning experience and immensely help the country in improving health facilities also,” he said.  

The “SDG threshold” for Universal health coverage, according to the global health context, recommends that the nurse-bed ratio should be around 1:3 in teaching hospitals and 1:5 in general hospitals.  

Additionally, according to health experts, the doctor-to-population ratio is far lower than what the WHO (World Health Organization) requires. Bhutan has only about one doctor per 5,000 people but the standard is one doctor per 1000 people.

Since this will be the first-ever MBBS program in the country, it is expected to do more than just address the scarcity of medical specialists. KGUMBS today offers 34 programs to 1,192 students.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu