Govt. approves Nu 1.3bn for Health Flagship Program

Revolutionizing Bhutan’s health sector: a closer look at the health sector landmarks in 2023

The Ministry of Health (MoH) launched the Health Sector Transformation on 9th January 2023.  On the same day, a new agency named National Medical Services was formed aiming at providing a singular and renewed stewardship for clinical services management in the country.

In addition to the two departments in the Ministry of Health (MoH), the three regulatory bodies of the Ministry of Health, namely Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority, Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority, and Drug Regulatory Authority were combined into one agency which was named Bhutan Food and Drug Authority. The newly formed agency was expected to regulate medical products, food, and controlled substances in the country.

The Royal Center for Disease Control was deemed under the Ministry of Health (MoH) to serve the responsibility of providing Scientific and technical support to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

In addition to the health sector transformation, a new emblem for Nationa Medical Services was conceptualized and was launched on the same day. Meanwhile, the merger of the three regulatory authorities is expected to enhance the talent pool and operational efficiency resulting in single-window provisions for quality public services.

On January 30, 2023, the Ministry of Health and Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science of Bhutan (KGUMSB) signed an MOU to enhance cooperation and fortify their ongoing medical education initiatives.

Both the government and KGUMSB carried out health worker training and capacity-building before the MOU. KGUMSB will now be fully responsible for the continued medical education program.

Mongar Regional Referral Hospital and Gelephu Regional Referral Hospital started providing health examinations for overseas VISA services with effect from 6th February 2023. This comes after the successful empanelment of the two regional hospitals and panel physicians by the Australian Government upon the request of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Military Hospital was inaugurated in Dewathang, Samdrup Jongkhar on 5th February 2023, coinciding with the Seventh Birth Anniversary of His Royal Highness Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck. The Ministry of Health (MoH) inaugurated a 40-bed Hospital in Dewathang, Samdrup Jongkhar.

As a clustered hospital, the hospital will provide specialized services like gynecology, surgery, endoscopy, pediatrics, internal medicine, and anesthesiology to the existing medical services. The Ministry also promised to institute CT scans and dialysis as well.

The construction of the 40-bed hospital was initiated in 2016 with the budgetary support of Nu. 511 million from the Government of India. Coinciding with the inauguration, the Ministry of Health handed over the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Military Hospital to the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA).

The Health Infrastructure Development Division was officially handed over to the Department of Infrastructure Development, Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MoFT) on 16th February 2023.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Royal Centre for Infectious Diseases (RCID) was held in Gidakom on 19th February 2023.

Having extensive and specialized clinical and public health skills in the critical areas of infectious disease prevention, control, and management, the 100-bed RCID will be the nation’s first “state-of-the-art” hospital. The Japan International Cooperation Agency on behalf of the Japanese government is funding a project worth 2.994 billion JPY, or Nu 1.86 billion.  Through partnerships in the field of infectious disease research between hospitals and research institutes in the region and beyond, the RCID is envisioned to play a leading role both nationally and regionally in safeguarding the health security of Bhutanese and beyond.

22 Health officials were trained on Hospital Preparedness for Emergencies (Hope) from 6-9th March. A four-day national pilot program on Hospital Preparedness for Emergency (HOPE) was effectively held for a total of 22 participants at the hotel Thimphu Deluxe. The program was organized and led by the Department of Public Health’s Public Health Emergency Program (DoPH).

The Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management (DLGDM) and Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) partnered with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) to provide technical and financial support for the training. The seven regional HOPE course instructors from Nepal conducted the instruction. A variety of hospital management, emergency physicians, clinical personnel, administrators, and lecturers from KGUMSB were among the attendees.

The Ministry of Health officially launched its Electronic Patient Information System (ePIS) on 14th April 2023. ePIS is an all-inclusive, integrated Electronic Health Record (EHR) system that covers every facet of patient data management, including laboratory results, imaging studies, demographics, diagnoses, treatments, and medications.

The ePIS system was created by Manorama Infosolutions Pvt Limited, an Indian company, and Thimphu Tech Park Limited, a DHI-owned business. Its goals are to enhance patient outcomes, decrease medical errors, and optimize healthcare procedures. The Royal Government of Bhutan and the Asian Development Bank are both providing grant support for the ePIS system.

The Ministry of Health launched the Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) medical oxygen generator plants at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Thimphu, and the Regional Referral Hospital (RRH), Mongar on 9th August 2023.

On January 30, the Ministry of Health and (KGUMSB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). KGUMSB would provide training to healthcare professionals who treat patients clinically and who seek to prevent and promote public health in their communities. The number, need, and quality of training and capacity-building programs offered nationwide will all be maintained and tracked by KGUMSB.

On the Royal Command of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, the Pema Center Secretariat, an agency to spearhead Bhutan’s national response for mental health, was established. Her Majesty graced the inauguration ceremony of the Secretariat on 16 June, where prayers were performed for an auspicious start to the initiative.  The Secretariat aims to help build a society that promotes the mental health and well-being of all Bhutanese.

In a significant step towards improving maternal and child health, the Ministry of Health (MoH) embarked on a comprehensive Mother and Child Health (MCH) program, leading to a new period of care and support for expecting mothers and the child. Launched on 14 October 2023, this initiative aligns with national priorities and the ‘2020 Policy,’ with a primary goal to strengthen the well being of mothers and children throughout Bhutan.

On October 13, 2023, coinciding with the 12th Royal wedding anniversary, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) launched the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program at Semtokha Dzong.

The decision to establish an MBBS program in the country was in response to the growing demand for physicians, a need further underscored by lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will begin with 25 students from January next year.

The establishment of an MBBS program represents a significant step towards achieving self-reliance in producing basic-level general-duty medical officers. It also provides the opportunity to develop a training program tailored to the latest educational principles and Bhutan’s specific health needs.

Tandin Tshewang from Thimphu