The Challenge Ahead
In its efforts to promote its citizens’ happiness, the Bhutan government remains preoccupied with health care. Health care in Bhutan is free; but health-care costs are rising, says Gado Tshering, director of Bhutan’s health department. Tshering wants to invest in a magnetic-resonance imaging station that would let doctors diagnose disease earlier and with greater confidence.
“Capturing disease faster would save us a lot of money,” he says. When a patient’s illness exceeds Bhutan’s medical capabilities – which happens often, since most of the country’s health-care facilities are focused on treating pain, broken limbs, and gastrointestinal-tract illnesses – the government pays to have the patient sent to Calcutta or Bangkok. This is expensive and unsustainable.
“Eventually, probably sooner than later, we will need a lot more money, because the nature of disease in Bhutan is changing,” Tshering says. “We’re seeing more obesity, pain, depression, and hypertension.” These are expensive diseases to treat, especially when not caught until late stages. Left unchecked, health-care expenses will impinge on development plans.
George Martin suspects that Bhutan’s king and his GNH framework will be studied for years to come. Recently retired from a career at the National Institutes of Health, Martin traveled to Bhutan last year as part of a delegation to assess the country’s progress in public health. “Health care is still a struggle because of things like geography, finances, training, and sanitation,” he told me recently. “But they get that the name of the game is preventative medicine.”