Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Apr 16, 2020
Bhutan’s preparedness and response to COVID19

“At such a time, we must exhibit the strength that comes out of our smallness, remain united and support one another. During such exceptional circumstances, the government will take the responsibility of alleviating any suffering to the people due to the virus.”

  • His Majesty the King of Bhutan

The Ministry of Health is responsible for the stewardship of health sector in Bhutan. Health is a priority sector in Bhutan and all citizens receive free health care services at the point of care. The National Health Policy of the country states that the state shall “provide free access to basic public health services in both modern and traditional medicines” as enshrined in the constitution. It further states that the Government will continue to secure adequate budget for health care services to provide universal coverage to the Bhutanese citizens and ensure protection against catastrophic expenditure and impoverishment.

The country has always strived for equitable distribution of health and health care. Health care is delivered through a three-tiered health care service delivery system with a major thrust in the preventive and primary health care services.

His Majesty the King of Bhutan has been at the forefront of the preparedness and response plan to coronavirus pandemic, providing extraordinary leadership and vision to keep Bhutan and it’s people safe from this pandemic.

The Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the Health Minister are all medical doctors with public health background. The Royal Government of Bhutan’s fight against COVID-19 cannot be more scientific and evidence-based than what the country is following right now. The country has adopted and followed all technical guidance provided by the World Health Organization to respond to the current pandemic.

As of 15 April 2020, the total number of cases is five, two foreigners and three Bhutanese students who returned from affected countries. All cases are imported cases and there is no community transmission.

The first case in Bhutan was confirmed on 5 March 2020. The index was a foreigner and all his medical services were provided freely by the Government. He was air lifted to his country on 13 March 2020 upon the request from his family members.  The second case was a primary contact of the index case who was managed in the country.

The Government made it mandatory for everyone returning from abroad to be quarantined in designated quarantine facilities from 16 March 2020.  The other three cases were Bhutanese students who returned from affected countries. They were detected from designated quarantine facilities. As of 12 April 2020, 4 confirmed cases tested negative and are fully recovered.

Under the leadership of His Majesty the King of Bhutan, the whole of society and government approach was followed to respond to this situation. The Health Emergency Operation Center (HEOC) was activated at the Ministry of Health.

No individuals were put under financial hardship due to current COVID-19 pandemic in Bhutan. On top of free testing and medical services, all meals and accommodation are provided freely by the State at the designated quarantine and isolation facilities. The government has reprioritized and consolidated savings from non-essential activities including ex country travels and meetings from all sectors and are investing these in COVID- 19 response and actions.

The Royal Government of Bhutan set up the National COVID-19 Response fund on 9 March 2020. All Members of Parliament from both the houses have donated their one month’s salary to COVID-19 response.

Inspired and encouraged by His Majesty’s selfless leadership, Bhutanese have come together to fight for a common cause. A strong sense of national solidarity is being exhibited by all sections of the society. From farmers donating their hard-earned cash crops, to numerous people donating in both cash and kind to support the quarantine facilities. Businesses and hoteliers have offered their hotels to be used as quarantine facilities. People are volunteering in many ways to support the government response -volunteers providing meals to those working at the frontlines. The opposition provided its appreciation and support when in other counties the disease is being politicized.

Bhutan’s staging of COVID-19 outbreak has been prepared using international references. The staging has four levels (ranging from Level 1 (Green) to Level 4 (Red). Bhutan is currently at Level 3 (Orange) stage which indicates that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 but there is no local transmission of the virus.

Right after the first confirmed case, the government-imposed restriction for all incoming tourists with effect from 6th March 2020. In addition, all international conferences and seminars to be held in the country in the two weeks beginning 6th March 2020 have been postponed. Schools and institutes in the country were closed till further notice. The Ministry of Education came up with innovative ideas using technology to engage school children.

With the current level of preparedness and preventive measures in place, the government is also preparing for the worst-case scenario.

This is the time for all to work together. After the first positive case was reported, it has brought the Bhutanese people together in the same fight. The people have realized the importance of being together to battle this pandemic as One Nation.

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Sonam Yangchen

Sonam Yangchen

Ms Sonam Yangchen is a National Professional Officer WHO Country Office in Bhutan and looks after Health Systems Strengthening Division.She was also a Planning Officer ...

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