Within three days of the nationwide vaccination campaign, more than 56 percent of the eligible population has already received the first dose of the Covishield vaccine.
As of yesterday, 274,703 people were vaccinated across the country with more than 5,000 people reporting minor side effects.
According to the health ministry, the top three common adverse reactions reported were headache, fever, and pain at the site of injection.
Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that these side effects were common and not restrictive to the Covid-19 vaccine. She said that the side effects also indicated the body’s reaction to the vaccine. “Except for one individual who experienced an anaphylactic reaction on the first day, there were no major adverse reactions reported so far.”
Lyonpo said that minor side effects could be treated by paracetamol and taking rest at home. “However, if a person is having difficulty in breathing or if they experienced rashes on the body following the vaccination, they should immediately consult doctors.”
For this, Lyonpo said that the mandatory 30 minutes observation at site following immunisation was put in place. “Should a person experience an anaphylactic reaction, this is the time within which they would have it.”
Anaphylactic reaction is the only life-threatening condition that can arise from the vaccination (to any injection or medication) and it usually happens within 10 to 15 minutes after the injection or medication.
On being transparent with the side effects, the minister said that data from the Bhutan Vaccine System (BVS) were collected and analysed by 5pm daily and discussed with the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) before making it public. “We’re very transparent with all our data that we gather from the BVS.”
On having similar adverse reactions during the second dose of the vaccination, Lyonpo said, “With adverse reactions, it is very hard to predict anything but if you did not have an anaphylactic reaction during the first dose, the probability of having it during the second dose is unlikely.”
With the other minor side effects, the minister said that it was common, and regardless of any type of vaccines, some people would experience it. “But then there are no issues as it could be managed at home easily.”
She said that while the country was doing fairly well in terms of working towards immunising the entire eligible population, it was ‘too early’ to celebrate. “With His Majesty at the forefront, Bhutan has been very lucky and our entire containment efforts have been a whole-of-a-society approach.”
Lyonpo said that the country has managed to contain two local outbreaks of the disease with strong solidarity and commitment. “We seek similar solidarity during the vaccination too because we are only protected if all of us are protected.”
She added that there was a slight decrease in the turnout yesterday as compared to the second day. “While the overall turnout is good, we would still request people to come and get the vaccine including those 70 years plus individuals, if they can move around.”
Meanwhile, with many people requesting a certificate following the immunisation, Lyonpo said that the ministry in the coming days would make the certificates available from the BVS, which individuals can print themselves.
Yangchen C Rinzin
To intervene and carry out necessary reforms in the economic and public sectors, the taskforce of 21st Century Economic Roadmap has proposed to establish an Economic Development Board (EDB) under the Prime Minister’s Office.
The proposal is based on the past experience where the taskforce saw that only having good ideas and pronouncing new policies were not enough. The members stressed that there was a need for real instruments to carry out any reforms through such policies.
A member said that there was a need for EDB after realising that there were several shortcomings when it came to the implementation of various policies under different agencies.
The economic development policies 2010 and 2016 have revealed several policy commitments and identified agencies concerned to support their implementation.
“However, there was no single agency that assumed a lead role in implementing the policy,” the 21st century roadmap said.
The economic development policy contains 252 policy provisions, requiring the engagement and reform commitment of about 38 agencies. The roadmap document has stated that, although the Gross National Happiness Commission is mandated to undertake overall monitoring of the policy, it does not mandate the organisation’s functions of overall planning and monitoring of budgeted activities.
For instance, while agencies like the National Land Commission and National Environment Commission (NEC) are identified in the policy document, these agencies have mandates and acts that empower them with a more regulatory role than a facilitative role for economic activities.
The task force has also cited that there were numerous government bodies to assure compliance with various national legislations and policies, like BAFRA for food and agriculture standards, labour ministry for occupational safety and labour protection, ACC for corruption prevention, and NEC for environmental protection.
Besides some agencies said that they promoted the development of these sectors as per their primary mandate, which is regulation and oversight, however, the taskforce mentioned that many of these policies did not facilitate services to the people.
A task force member also said that, in order to execute their functions, all these agencies created frictions in the business environment, which was why there was a need for a dedicated body that would also voice and represent the causes of business in general.
“Such bodies should help facilitate and promote rather than regulate and control,” a task force member pointed out. “People will say that there is BCCI, but BCCI is without a clear legal basis that is made up of sector-based associations, which is often viewed as an outside body that is self-serving.”
This is why the task force in their draft roadmap, which is with the government for review currently, mentions that there is a requirement of a body “within” government that is mandated to promote investment and business to create jobs.
“It is expected that such a body would converse with other government agencies without the fear of being tagged as self-serving or representing only big interests,” the roadmap stated. “The EDB would also facilitate in carrying out many recommendations of the economic roadmap.”
The task force has observed that past economic initiatives such as the economic development policy did not have a mechanism to close the loop of accountability.
“Despite being an extremely critical policy cutting across several agencies, the provisions for various sectors were never incorporated into their Annual Performance Agreements (APA),” the roadmap has stated.
A task force member said that was why it was critical that the EDB should be empowered and resourced adequately with a statutory mandate to raise funds and ensure sustainability.
If established, the EDB can carry out its long-term mandate of promoting investment and businesses, according to the economic roadmap document. “The EDB as a central coordinating agency can also help overcome the silo mentality of agencies.”
EDB should represent the client/user/citizen side in the formulation of the APA targets for agencies dealing with investment, economic and business issues.
Some of the functions and mandates of EDB would be to work with key stakeholders to identify and remove administrative burden and friction in all bureaucratic setups, promote both domestic and foreign investment, act as a one-stop-shop for all foreign direct investment interests, and connect business with interested partners, both local and foreign.
The EBD will also have the authority and funds to engage with potential investors and firms, and provide policy feedback to the government for the promotion of economic activities.
Bhutan’s nationwide vaccination campaign began on March 27 with a woman born in the year of the Monkey.
On consulting the Central Monastic Body, the astrologers told the government that a woman born in the year of Monkey should be chosen as the first person to receive the vaccine.
The local governments then looked for women of that age to ensure nothing goes wrong with the campaign. Most of these women visited and prayed at the local temples, abodes of local deities, before receiving the vaccine. Most didn’t have any side-effects, a few experienced minor discomforts.
Their parents, relatives and friends lauded them for their decisions.
Consignments of the vaccine were received with prayer ceremonies and elaborate rituals to expel any negative energy.
On March 25, Kencho Lham received a call. The dzongkhag health officer offered her to be the first to take the vaccine.
Kencho Lham had returned from Kuwait in May due to the pandemic. “When I came here I felt safe. And when the free vaccine was announced, I was really looking forward to taking it.”
Dzongkhag officials spoke words of encouragement and gratitude.
“I did see a lot of people mentioning about the vaccine’s side effects but I didn’t experience any. I got a flu vaccine in the past, so I wasn’t really worried.”
Gasa dzongkhag received 2,490 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on March 25.
“In other countries, people have to pay for the vaccine. Here, our king and the government are providing these for free. There’s no reason not to take it,” Kencho Lham said.
For Mongar residents, His Majesty The King’s presence at the inaugural event of Covid-19 vaccination was a blessing and a motivation.
Residents said they gained courage and confidence after hearing the news that His Majesty, who is on a Royal tour of the east, is with them. Five vaccination posts in the town saw long queues of old and young alike.
His Majesty visited the vaccination posts in the dzong and Mongar High School, two of the 112 posts in the dzongkhag.
Karma Pema Wangmo received the first Covid-19 vaccine in the presence of His Majesty at Mongar Dzong. She said that her initial inhibitions and anxiety subsided in presence of the His Majesty. “It was a proud moment and I feel blessed and grateful.”
A teacher and a Desuup, Karma Pema Wangmo said she volunteered to be the first woman. Nothing happened to her after the vaccination.
After hearing about His Majesty’s visit, residents said that many rushed to get the jab.
In Mongar, 10,497 of the 25,000 registered got vaccinated as of yesterday with 236 reported for minor adverse effect of immunization with fever and dizziness.
Without others remaining reluctant, Chimi Selden from Lhuentse and works as a senior technician with Bhutan Power Corporation Ltd volunteered.
In the wake of numerous reports concerning vaccine safety, she said she was intimidated to take the vaccine in the beginning.
Chimi Selden received the vaccine on Saturday at Dagapela hospital. She went to recite prayers at the nearby lhakhang after getting vaccinated. Except for a mild headache and pain in the joints, she had no other side-effects.
“I’ve also made calls to my friends, encouraging them to take the vaccine. Many of them were afraid,” she said.
A junior engineer at Wangdue dzongkhag, Ngawang Peday had initially hesitated but eventually accepted the offer to be the first person.
“My father didn’t say anything but mother was worried because she heard about the side-effects,” she said. With the help of her siblings, she convinced her mother. Her parents were also vaccinated on the first day.
“I did pray for the whole vaccination process in the dzongkhag to go well,” Ngawang Peday said. She didn’t experience any side effects.
On Saturday morning, Karma Yangchen was up excited and nervous.
For the 30-year-old mother, it was an emotional moment. Being a wife of a frontline worker, her family is vulnerable to diseases.
After the vaccine, the woman from Bikhar, Trashigang returned to her loom and resumed weaving.
“I was not trying to be famous. I volunteered in an effort to encourage those unsure about the vaccine,” she said. “The vaccine comes as a hope to end the pandemic.”
Karma said that she does not have any bad experience with vaccination before and she looks forward to receiving the next shot from the same centre.
Tshering Peldon from Baytshamang in Bumdeling got the first Covid-19 vaccine in Trashiyangtse. She knew it was a historic moment. “My family feels proud of me.”
Some villagers asked her if it was painful. “I convinced them that it is a safe vaccine and there is no need to be worry,” said the mother of two.
In the remote Sombaykha drungkhag, Haa, Kezang Wangmo, a farmer took the vaccine first.
With a limited population in the gewog, she was the only person aged 30.
Despite all the rumour about the vaccine, she volunteered. She said: “I have faith and confidence in my King and the Prime Minister.”
After taking the jab, Kezang Wangmo stayed until 2 p.m; at the BHU, waiting for her friends and husband to get their jab. She reached home at around 4.30pm. She milked her cows, fed the cattle and took a nap as she experienced a mild headache.
She woke up again at 10pm to cook for the family. Yesterday, while talking to Kuensel over the phone, she was collecting fodder.
Tenzin Wangmo, 30, the legal officer in Pemagatshel dzongkhag, said: “I was happy when I was chosen as the first person to get vaccinated in the dzongkhag.”
She chanted prayers and recited Sangay Menlha before getting the jab.
She said that none in her family tested positive for Covid-19.
“Considering the positive cases, two lockdowns and expenditure invested by the government to keep us safe, I took the vaccine,” Tenzin Wangmo said.
Sangay Zangmo, 30, a policewoman, was a little worried. “But I got confidence after listening to the prime minister.”
“It is better to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”
She decided to get vaccinated because as a frontline worker at the border there was a higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19. “I felt lethargic and slept for about four hours after returning home. I had a peaceful sleep that night.”
Sangay Wangmo from Bangkha under Dogar gewog in Paro was the first to receive Covishield at Lagay outreach clinic on Saturday.
Answering her silent prayers, tshogpa Dorji asked her if she would take the first shot Friday evening. Sangay Wangmo took her shot at 10.28am. After the vaccine, she returned home, ate her lunch and went into the field to sow seeds.
“It is like the regular birth control shot I take,” she said.
Many neighbours called to check if she was okay.
While far-flung villages such as Bangkha were considered safe due to the minimum crowd, she said it was essential to vaccinate for safety.
“If the vaccine doesn’t benefit the population, the government will never import them,” she said.
“We have to consider how His Majesty The King is risking his life to protect us. Our only contribution as a responsible citizen is to take the shot.”
At 9.20am in Nganglam, Sangay Choden stood in front of more than 70 truck drivers in Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd hall.
“I was not scared of the vaccine but nervous when people started gathering around me,” said Sangay Choden, a grocer adjacent to the DCCL colony.
Sangay Choden volunteered to be the first recipient immediately after she learnt officials were looking for a female born in the Monkey year. Her parents were excited to hear that she was chosen to mark the historic event.
Sangay said: “Since the vaccine is critical in keeping us safe from Covid-19, I was waiting for this moment and today, I am extremely happy to get it.”
Following the vaccination, Sangay walks uphill to her shop, a 10-minute walk. As soon as she was home, she enters the kitchen to prepare some Koka noodles. Six customers have been waiting for a meal.
After she serves them, she prepares doma for another group of men with stained lips and red teeth.
“Apart from a slight pinch from the injection, I didn’t feel anything,” says Sangay.
None of those 151 truck drivers who vaccinated after Sangay Choden have reported having any side effects.
Spread across three gewogs in Nganglam, 12 centres and 14 posts have been set up to vaccinate 3,571 registered people according to the health officials in Nganglam.
Thinley Choden, the administrative officer of Tsimalakha hospital was only worried about her work when she accepted to be the first to receive the vaccine.
“But my friends assured everything will be taken care of,” she said.
After taking the jab, Thinley Choden rested for 40 minutes and returned to work. It was only after 3pm she felt weak and left for home to take rest following doctors’ advice. “I felt a little tired and my joints ached.”
A day after the jab, yesterday, Thinley Choden was feeling better but was still weak to return to duty.
She got the jab from her close friend, another 30-year-old Kunzang Choden, a pharmacy technician at the hospital.
In Phuentsholing thromde, a regional transport officer with RSTA, Tila M Sharma, was at the forefront to get the vaccine.
“It is my primary responsibility to protect myself and my community from getting and spreading the virus,” she said. “I am glad and privileged.”
“We are all aware, how His Majesty The King has been leading us in this fight against the invisible enemy at the forefront, and thus my decision to take the vaccine is my contribution in the fight.”
Tila M Sharma urged all the eligible Bhutanese to come forward and take the vaccine. After the vaccine, she felt normal.
“When I took the jab, I had a little fear,” the teacher of Samtse LSS, Sonam Pem said, adding that it was natural being a mother of a three-year-old.
Asked why she took the vaccine, she said: “We all have to vaccinate anyway. So I thought it was a good opportunity.”
Unlike many others who complained of side effects, Sonam Pem said she didn’t feel anything. “In other countries, there are people who want to get vaccinated but are not getting the opportunity. But in Bhutan, we are given vaccination for free.”
Meanwhile, a 52-year-old monk, Pelden Dorji was given two doses of the vaccine in Tashichholing, Samtse.
Originally from Trongsa, he had come to meet his sister and other relatives at Tashichholing.
After completing half an hour of observation, the desuup on duty called him to report to the health vaccination team to help him go home. In the meantime, he sat on the chair meant for those in the queue to receive the vaccine and got another shot. He misunderstood and heard that he has to get two doses.
He was released after six hours of observation. He was closely monitored by the doctor on duty. He is normal and didn’t have side effects.
Kelzang Choden, a desuup and a Gelephu thromde employee, said she was mentally prepared for the day.
“I was excited and also nervous at the same time. I was comfortable with vaccination always and it helped me stay calm,” said Kelzang Choden.
“My sister was delighted when I told her that I was the first to receive the vaccine in Sarpang,” she said.
More than 6,000 people across 45 vaccination centres were vaccinated that day. Health officials faced challenges in registering and pre-screening using the online system, as the system faced some glitches.
More than 90 percent of the 24,000 people from Sarpang who registered for the vaccination said they will go for the jab.
Gyem Lham, an ICT Officer of Lhuentse dzongkhag was the first person to receive the Covid-19 jab at Namdroling monastery in Lhuentse.
“This Covid-19 pandemic has affected our lives. I see restrictions everywhere. I want to have the life that I was used to before this pandemic and this vaccine gives me hope,” she said.
“Moreover, the vaccine is blessed by His Holiness The Je Khenpo.”
Norbu Dema, a teacher at Tshangkha central school was vaccinated at Chendepji pry school vaccination post to begin the vaccination campaign in the dzongkhag.
Norbu Dema from Bumdeling, Tashiyangtse said that she was aware of the side effects.
“I was not at all scared of the side effects because the benefits of having it far outweigh the side effects,” she said.
Norbu Dema expressed gratitude to His Majesty The King and the government for successfully planning and executing the vaccination rollout programme.
A health official went around town looking for a 30-year-old woman. Bagawati Pulami, a shopkeeper, volunteered. “I felt happy and lucky at the same time.”
Most importantly, she said it was felt a responsibility for her as a shopkeeper to get vaccinated in order to prevent the virus from spreading to customers.
“Being in the shop, I need to interact with different people from different places every day. If I don’t take the vaccine, it could cost others,” she said.
“I was fine on the day I received the vaccine and could go to my shop,” she said.
A monk born in the Dragon year, Phub Tshering was the first to initiate the vaccination drive in Punakha.
Dzongkhag health officer Namgay Dawa said that among monks, astrologers said it was auspicious to start vaccination with a male born in the Dragon year.
Punakha dzongkhag’s decision was also because the vaccine post set near the dzong was targeted for the members of the Zhung Dratshang and about 335 monks inside the dzong.
Zhung Dratshang’s administration officer Sherab Tharchen said that the dratshang didn’t have women.
So Phub Tshering volunteered. “If I can contribute in something significant like this, I’m happy.”
Phub Tshering and monks recited the Sangay Menlha prayers before the event. Past 10am, Phub Tshering received his dose.
He informed his parents, who are farmers, only after the event fearing they would be worried. But when he informed them later they were proud of him.
“I think there is nothing to fear,” Phub Tshering said.
Kuensel Reporters and Tenzin Namgyel (former Kuensel Chief Reporter) in Nganglam
Since the first day of the week-long mass vaccination programme in the country, March 27, 183,271 people have got the AstraZeneca jab.
Unlike in many other countries where debate still is underway as to whether Covid-19 vaccines should be authorised for mass administration, Bhutan has gone ahead with clear plans. What is also unique about Bhutan’s way is that the first takers of the jab have been government leaders which has encouraged the people to come forward to take the jab.
We also have well-organised system to make the programme easily accessible to all who are eligible to take the vaccine. Delivery of the vaccine to far-off corners of the country is one thing, making it available zone-wise in the bigger towns and cities is another. For example, you can go to the nearest vaccination station or point with just your citizenship identity card if you are travelling or visiting your family and friends.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine—it uses a harmless adenovirus to deliver genetic instructions for a protein from SARS-CoV-2 into human cells.
Adenovirus is a common virus that causes a range of illnesses such as fever, sore throat, headache, nausea, diarrhoea, and, even pink eye. But they have the capability to induce innate and adaptive immune responses. Studies have indicated that the vaccine is 80 percent effective without serious side effects.
We are getting reports of people suffering from fever, soar throat, headache, nausea, diarrhoea and pink eye, but these reactions are natural. In fact, what this indicates is that your body is responding to the vaccine.
There is nothing to be worried about.
The turnout for the first round of the vaccination programme, even as we have a few more days to complete the programme, is encouraging. What this means is that the people are aware. By the looks of it, the second round could witness even more willingness from the people to take the AstraZeneca jabs.
What we also know, though, is that the vaccine cannot protect us forever from the Covid-19 virus. Chances are that Covid-19 could become endemic—it could—like malaria, for example—always be present in a certain population or region.
That’s why, even as we complete the vaccination rounds, we must focus, as we have so far, on prevention. And that means keeping the health protocols at all levels tight.
Nima | Gelephu
The ninth water project under DeSuung National Service launched at Taraythang gewog in Umling dungkhag, Sarpang, is expected to bring irrigation water to more than 50 acres of dry land and 10 acres of wetland.
The irrigation project is expected to benefit 24 households in Tashicholing.
Taraythang gup, Narayan Neopany, said people of Tashicholing chiwog wait for the monsoon to start working in their paddy fields. “About six households couldn’t work, as there wasn’t enough water for irrigation.”
He said the project would help farmers grow vegetables in winter and also revive wetlands left uncultivated. “The damage on irrigation will be less this time because pipes are to be used for irrigation channel.”
Sarpang rabdey’s lam neten presided over the Salang Tendrel at the water source and officials from dzongkhag, drungkhag, armed force, and gewogs were present at the launch yesterday.
The project for irrigation is executed by desuups, and implemented in collaboration with the armed forces and the agriculture ministry as the main government partner agency.
A total of 35 desuups from the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th batches are employed for a period of three months, according to a press release from the drungkhag.
The project involves the construction of a 1.7km high-density polythene pipeline as a conveyance from the intake weir, as well as an internal distribution system within the command area.
The estimated cost of the project is more than Nu 7 million.
Umling drungkhag will support the execution of the project on a day-to-day basis. The agriculture ministry will provide technical support.
The irrigation scheme will be handed over to the gewog and the beneficiary community once completed. Beneficiaries will be responsible for its operation and maintenance.
The press release stated several irrigation projects supported by the agriculture ministry are in the pipeline.
Addressing the public, Sarpang dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji, highlighted the need to take ownership of the irrigation canal, unlike the past irrigation canal that was neglected and left without proper care.
He said the government had invested a huge budget for irrigation in the past but it was damaged within a few years of completion.
“The irrigation canal shouldn’t be neglected. The community should take ownership of the irrigation canal and take care of it,” said Lobzang Dorji.
Plastic waste finds a useful purpose in an innovative way
From reducing waste in the country to fewer potholes, mixing churned plastic with asphalt and aggregate brings many benefits.
Green Road, a construction company, made use of 520MT (metric tonnes) plastic waste from landfills to construct 80km (kilometres) of plastic roads in Thimphu, Haa, Paro and Phuentsholing in the last seven years.
Researches say that using aggregate coated with plastic offers better resistance to abrasion, wear and tear. Moreover, the strong bond between plastic coated aggregate and bitumen increases the lifespan of the road.
Green Road’s founder, Rikesh Gurung, said that using plastic on road increases its load withstanding property. And the maintenance cost is minimal, for up to five years.
The company collects plastic waste from landfills and from the Pasakha Industrial Estate, which generates about four to five metric tonnes of waste in a day.
The shredded plastic waste is coated over the aggregate, then mixed with asphalt, and laid on the roads.
Rikesh Gurung said that the hierarchy of managing waste is different in the country.
“In our country, waste gets dumped in the landfill first. The waste handlers then extract the waste,” he said.
In countries like Japan, waste management follows the hierarchy of reducing, reusing, recycling, incinerating.
Rikesh Gurung said that the agency for waste management, private companies handling waste, and households in the country work on their own.
There is a lack of support even if the waste handlers initiate a systemic waste segregation method, he added.
According to a 2019 report from the National Statistics Bureau, a total of 190MT of solid waste is generated in a day in the country, of which 17.1 percent constitutes plastic waste.
Green Road is today a self-sustaining company. It trains ventures in the region and does road construction work outside Bhutan.
The nationwide vaccination drive is well on track to cover the entire eligible population with the first dose of Covishield vaccine with 97,322 people vaccinated on the second day.
According to the health ministry, by the end of the second day, 183,271 people were vaccinated covering 37.5 percent of the eligible population in the country.
The Prime Minister’s Office data, however, revealed that more than 186,000 people had received the vaccination by the end of the second day, yesterday. The country would require a daily coverage of about 76,000 people every day to cover the entire eligible population (533,558) over the seven-day duration.
No major adverse effects following immunisation (AEFI) were recorded on the second day except for a few minor adverse reactions including fever, headache, and nausea.
Dr GP Dhakal from the national immunisation technical advisory group (NI-TAG) said that as of yesterday, about 3,000 people reported having experienced some of these adverse reactions.
Most, 26 percent, reported having headaches followed by fever (21 percent), and some 13 percent reported experiencing nausea and vomiting.
Dr Dhakal said that these side effects were not restricted to Covid-19 vaccine and were common with any other vaccination. “The numbers are high because we are vaccinating a large number of people. This is common and there is nothing to fear.”
He said that the AEFI reports were not restrictive to the 30-minute mandatory observation period following the immunisation.
“People can experience these adverse effects anywhere between 24 to 48 hours. Some may even have them for days which is why we will be monitoring for at least a month.”
The 30 minutes mandatory observation, he said was to see if anyone experienced anaphylactic reactions because these people had to be immediately treated on the spot by giving them an adrenaline injection to counter the reaction.
Dr Dhakal said that anyone experiencing the minor side effects could take a painkiller (paracetamol) and rest at home. “They should take plenty of fluid and have a good rest. But if you think the symptoms are major, you should contact the consulting doctors or dial 112 to avail the emergency services.”
He added that the side effects were an indication of the vaccine working on the body. “But this doesn’t mean that for people who do not experience the side effects, the vaccine is not working. It mainly depends on the body’s immunity.”
Most of the people who received the vaccine on the first day said that they did not feel any side effects. The first jab recipient, Ninda Dema said that she was feeling ‘completely okay’ 30 minutes after the vaccination.
Ninda who has trypanophobia (fear of injection and needles), said that she didn’t even feel the needle go in. “I was too engrossed in my prayer that I didn’t even feel the needle. The cameras were more intimidating than the injection itself.”
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji who excitedly took off his sleeve and sat on the chair on the first day was made to complete the pre-screening form first. “I was very excited then,” he said.
Lyonpo after receiving the vaccine said that it was like any other vaccine. “I can only say that today is a historic day and that we are moving closer to protecting our communities and keeping our people safe,” he said. “I hope everyone will come forward and not hesitate to take the vaccine. We have all taken the vaccine and we are feeling absolutely normal.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus who had completed 25 minutes at the observation room after the vaccination said; “I feel great. Except for a little pain on the injection site, I don’t feel anything.”
He said that he was thankful to the country for making Covid-19 vaccine available for all the eligible Bhutanese in the country including foreigners. “I would like to give full credit to the government for their ability to bring in enough doses to vaccinate all the eligible population in Bhutan. Also, I would like to convey my appreciation to the Indian government for making this possible.”
Meanwhile, for those who were still confused about the date and timing of vaccination, Dr Dhakal said that anyone can visit the nearest vaccination station with an identification document (ID cards) and receive the vaccine over the next five days.
Oral health problems have been on the rise in the country but investment in terms of budget, policy, and human resources has remained far behind according to health experts.
Experts flagged these issues at a recent webinar on Oral Health and Dentistry in Bhutan marking World Oral Health Day.
Oral medicine specialist from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Dr Gyan Prasad Bajgai, said the country was facing a shortage of specialists and sub-specialists.
The country in 2020 had 68 dentists, three oral and maxillofacial surgeons, one oral medicine specialist and pedodontist each, two prosthodontists, four orthodontists, 76 dental hygienists and 44 dental technicians.
The required human resources per 50,000 people, he said, were 13 oral and maxillofacial surgeons, 15 oral medicine specialists, 12 orthodontists, 14 prosthodontists and 15 pedodontists excluding other oral health professionals.
Bhutan has three oral and maxillofacial surgeons, one oral medicine specialist, four orthodontists, two prosthodontists, a pedodontist and no specialists in other dental fields.
He said that five dentists, four dental hygienists, and four dental technicians resigned in the past few years.
Three doctors are undergoing specialisation courses in Thailand and Malaysia.
According to him, there is no provision for long-term training in dentistry in the current Plan. “We need a pool of experts,” he said, adding that the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan ( KGUMSB) should produce specialists in the field.
He said that a division for oral health services in the health ministry should be created and a dental hospital established.
Dr Gyan Prasad Bajgai also said that there were discrepancies in in-service conditions of KGUMSB. He explained that MD (Doctor of Medicine), MS (Master of Science) and PhD candidates are preferred for teaching positions over those with equivalent degrees such as MDS (Master of Dental Surgery) and MSD (Master of Science in Dentistry).
“As a consequence, dental specialists are placed one grade lower than our colleagues (in other departments), which is a loss of four years. They need to serve at least six years at the associate professor level to get promoted to the professor level,” he said.
Citing a recent letter from the RCSC, he said that all graduates except MBBS would be placed at P5A level from 2024. “It is unfair for dental graduates who in the region are placed at par with MBBS graduates,” he said.
JDWNRH provides common oral health services such as consultations, demonstrations of oral hygiene measures, oral health education (diet and visits), tooth extraction, biopsies, fillings, root canal treatments, mouth X-ray, sealants and fluoride applications and dental prosthesis.
Hospitals also provide specialised oral health services including cleft lip and palate repairment, constructive surgeries of face and bones, caps, feeding devices for cleft palates, root canals and oral medicines.
Dental Surgeon Dr Tshewang Gyeltshen from Tsirang district hospital said oral hygiene was neglected in rural areas.
He said that 43 years after the adoption of the 1978 Alma Ata declaration, which expressed the need for urgent national and international action to protect and promote the health of all, people were much happier and healthier. “But certain aspects of health services have been neglected. For instance, there is no equity in terms of policies and their implementation globally when it comes to dentistry.”
Major victims of oral health problems in Bhutan are children. About 84 percent of children aged between five and six years suffer from oral health problems in Bhutan.
“Health assistants and nurses in our communities are doing an excellent job, but they lack knowledge in precancerous examinations. People have to wait in queue at JDWNRH,” Dr Tshewang Gyeltshen said, adding that oral diseases were more common than other diseases.
To improve oral health services, Dr Tshewang Gyeltshen said that the government should come up with proper human resource mappings. “We should make oral health service coverage, screening and visits to BHUs by dzongkhag-level dental health officials mandatory part of the performance reporting system,” he said.
Dr Tshewang Gyeltshen also said that a dental hospital was required in the country.
However, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that dental services were covered in the government’s essential health services package.
“Bhutan is one of the few countries that have included dental services in the essential health services list as per the Alma Ata Declaration of 1978. The government is focusing on developing a multi-disciplinary hospital where a separate unit for dentistry will be instituted to provide advanced services,” Lyonpo said.
Professor OP Kharbanda from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said oral health services were expensive and was not part of the universal health coverage globally in the past. According to him, the cost of a dental implant in India varied from INR 35,000 to 45,000.
He said that there was a need for Bhutan to institute an oral health commission and draft policies on oral health, smoking and chewing of betelnut.
The country recorded a total of 194,366 oral morbidity cases in 2019.
Common oral diseases in the country are dental caries, lip cancers and oral cavity, tooth loss, gum diseases, crooked teeth and oro-dental trauma. Oral diseases are linked to diet, alcohol, stress, tobacco and betel nut, according to health experts.
Waste produced from the mass Covid-19 vaccination will be autoclaved, health officials say.
Officiating director of the Department of Medical Services, Tandin Dorji, said there are protocols within the ministry to manage such waste.
“All dzongkhags have autoclave machines of varying sizes to curb medical waste,” he said.
Online sources state an autoclave is a machine that provides a physical method of sterilisation by killing bacteria, viruses, and even spores present in the material put inside of the vessel using steam under pressure.
An autoclave sterilises the materials by heating them up to a particular temperature for a specific period of time.
Waste handlers claim the medical waste is classified under hazardous waste and they have no involvement in collection and handling, as it will be directly collected from the vaccination centres to be autoclaved.
Tandin Dorji said hazardous or infectious medical waste is collected in sharp containers and picked up from healthcare facilities and transported to processing centres to be autoclaved. “It’s sanitised with high-pressure steam in an autoclave machine and then sent to landfill along with other kinds of waste.”
The National Waste Management Strategy 2019 says that there are no adequate resources and facilities to manage hazardous medical waste in the country, which mostly ends up in the landfills without proper treatment.
“Medical waste generated across the country is increasing at a rate of about 15 to 20 percent each year as a result of the growing range of medical service provisions,” the strategy states.
In 2017 alone, the medical waste produced from healthcare facilities increased by 13.2 percent, from 378 to 428 metric tonnes.
Although there are no published records yet, the number is expected to increase due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Centre for Disease Control states that medical waste from Covid-19 should be managed as a category B waste that contains infectious substance but not in a form that causes permanent disability or life-threatening or fatal diseases.
Meanwhile, more than 500,000 people have registered for the weeklong Covid-19 vaccination as of yesterday.
The government will launch the third phase of the electronic government procurement (e-GP) within this year, according to Ngultse Lyonpo (Finance Minister) Namgay Tshering.
The e-GP system facilitates all procuring agencies to publish tenders, corrigenda and notifications of the contract award.
Lyonpo said that the e-GP system was being implemented by all the government agencies. He said that bids today were submitted electronically without the bidder having to visit the procuring agency’s office to submit the document.
“We’re in the second phase of implementing e-GP. It should be complied with by all our procurement agencies,” he said.
According to the minister, bidding and evaluation works will be carried out electronically after the government launches the third phase. “The e-GP will prevent corruption and save time,” Lyonpo said.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) registered more than 500 complaints related to the construction sector between 2006 and 2016.
As a tool to drive efficiency in the procuring system, the first phase of the e-GP system was launched in 2017. The second phase was launched in July last year with enhanced features linking it to other government agencies or procuring agencies to improve efficiency.
However, the draft 21st Century Economic Roadmap states that the current procurement system does not provide incentive for the contractor to incorporate the long-term health and condition of the infrastructure beyond the stipulated “defect liability period”.
The roadmap, therefore, suggests that there is a need to review the current procurement system while also exploring alternative procurement modes that foster the builders’ engagement in the project beyond the construction phase.
The roadmap suggests that the procurement system should move from a transactional “bid, build, and handover” approach to a more relational model with the accountability of each party to the contract.
It explains, “A viable alternative is to call for bids for the whole package including the design, specification and estimation along with construction, and a built-in provision for maintenance of the infrastructure over its service life.”
This, it states, will bring about bids based on the market price and not based on the Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR).
The roadmap states that the new procurement framework could be applied where depreciation is high and results can be evaluated in a shorter period of time. The shortcomings exposed in the current procurement system could then be addressed before a comprehensive roll-out.
However, the 21st Century Economic Roadmap does not mention electronic procurement. One of the members of the economic roadmap taskforce said that it was not necessary for the roadmap to delve into e-procurement issues as the document covers broader policy issues.
“Issues such as e-procurement are being looked after by agencies,” he said.
Bhutan relies heavily on the import of construction materials from India.
With the availability of local raw materials such as timber, cement, sand and boulders, the roadmap states that the country needs to prioritise and work towards using these resources either in raw or value-added form.
The roadmap states the authorised agency should also ensure that the price is not exorbitant especially in the current pandemic context of local materials and facilitate the import of raw materials that are not locally available.
It highlights the need to support the establishment of a factory to manufacture prefabricated or readymade building materials. “In this regard, to encourage investment in such factories and precast manufacturing units, the use of prefabricated windows and doors should be mandatory for all public construction works for instance.”
The works and human settlement ministry, it states, should incorporate prefabricated windows, doors and other feasible parts in the Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR) to enable procuring agencies to account for it in their Bill of Quantities (BoQ).
Further, the construction sector is also beset by repeated cases of project delays and cost overrun. In 2017, 81 percent of the projects reported cost overrun and 64 percent were not completed within the stipulated period.
The prevalence of inferior quality of infrastructure and multiple cases of contractual disputes also raises the need to reflect on the current procurement system, standard of professionalism and, proficiency in the sector.
While duty-free outlets and their agents continue to do tobacco business legally, there are reports of penalising people for the illegal sale of tobacco in the country in recent times. Such arrests confuse the public and questions the rule of law.
In the ordinary sense, Section 11 of the Tobacco Control Act (Amendment 2014) prohibits any person to cultivate or harvest, manufacture, sell, buy, supply, or distribute tobacco and prohibits the transportation of tobacco beyond permissible quantity. Further, Section 12 authorises the importation of tobacco only for “personal consumption.” Section 11(c) makes it an offence even to buy tobacco and violation of these provisions can amount to serious criminal charges, including arrest, detention and imprisonment.
However, the government, citing exigencies due to the COVID-19, justified allowing duty-free outlets in the country to import, sell, distribute, transport tobacco products as well as appoint local government (LGs) and other shops in the country to do business on behalf of duty-free against the provisions of the TCA. While such a move was strongly criticised and questioned on the ground of constitutionality and legislative prerogative, the government defended the action, stating that such an executive order was to address exigencies situation and “the actions of the executive is justified per interim.” This means the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) has been suspended and its provisions remain in abeyance till the government issues another executive order superseding the earlier order.
Thus, neither the constitution nor the Tobacco Control Act reserves any special discretionary authority or exception to the government and the law is only suspended for the time being. If the law is suspended, as argued and defended, the law enforcement agencies must apply the law to everyone equally, irrespective of whether government or an ordinary citizen. Article 7 (1) and (2) of our Constitution guarantees the person’s right to “life, liberty and security of person” against unwarranted actions of the public authorities and arbitrary arrest or detention. In short, Article 7(1) and (20) are designed to “protect human life against unwarranted actions by the public authorities as well as private persons” ensure due process established by law and ensure fair procedure for everyone.
Civil and Criminal Procedure (CCPC) 2001 further cements these constitutional protections. Section 158 of CCPC states that “no person shall be subjected to arrest or detention, except in accordance with this Code.” Section 161 imposes the duty on the police to apprehend if there is sufficient ground of apprehension to crime, and Section 162 mandates the police to prepare a crime report, and under Section 163, courts can issue arrest warrant only if police request for a criminal offence.
In the current situation, if the law enforcement authorities justify the arrest or impose fines under the TCA and if courts start accepting any cases on this, it is contrary to the arguments and defences made by the government. This means that the current system of duty-free importing and doing business of tobacco and other agents as well as the consumers (buyers) is a criminal offence, and the same actions must be taken against them. Otherwise, the recent news imposing fines or other actions of the public authorities may not only contravene the existing laws but also become unconstitutional. The rule of law is the foundation of democracy, the law must be applied equally to everyone.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Last year, Punakha recorded the highest daily maximum temperature at 37.5°C. At the same time, Haa recorded the lowest daily minimum temperature at -12.0°C.
This is according to Bhutan State of Climate (BSC) 2020. BSC, published by the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), is an annual climate monitoring report that provides a summary of observations of the country’s climate each year.
The report says that Haa experienced a greater number of days (127) with the minimum temperature below or equal to zero. Compared with 2019, the minimum temperature was recorded in Bumthang at 4.5 ˚C.
Last year, the annual average maximum temperature in the country was 22°C and minimum temperature was 11.8°C.
2020 was one of the warmest years on record globally. According to NCHM, the country received near to normal average temperature compared with the long-term average from 1996 to 2019.
Meteorology stations in Sipsu, Phuentsholing, Punakha, Bajo, Bhur, and Tagmachu recorded higher annual average maximum temperature. Haa, Gasa, and Paro stations recorded lower annual average maximum temperature.
However, the analysis of 21-year data from 1996 to 2017, collected from 15 weather stations, indicate an increasing temperature trend in the country.
Climate projection for surface temperature in Bhutan indicates the possibility of increase of about 0.8°C to 1.6°C between 2021 and 2050 and about 1.6°C to 2.8°C by the end of this century.
Like in 2018, Gasa experienced the highest number of rainy days—214 days. Bhur received the highest annual rainfall of 7,220.3 millimetres (mm), followed by Sipsoo at 6,324.2mm.
The highest 24-hour rainfall was also recorded in Bhur, which was measured at 512.1mm.
In general, the country received near-normal to slightly above-normal rainfall in 2020. From July to September, most of the stations received slightly above the normal rainfall against the long-term average 1996-2019.
The southern belt of the country received more rainfall compared with other regions.
The analysis of rainfall data from 1996 to 2017 revealed that there was marginal decrease in the trend of rainfall in Bhutan. NCHM projections, however, indicate that the mean annual rainfall over Bhutan could increase in the future. “Under the RCP 4.5 scenario, the mean annual rainfall over Bhutan indicates an increase of about 10-30 percent on the mean annual scale.”
Coinciding with the World Meteorological Day, NCHM launched four reports related to cryosphere, water, and weather and climate on March 23.
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
More than two decades after the Lugge tsho breached its dam in 1994, people along the Phochu and Mochu continue to attribute the calamity to religious reasons.
Speaking at the Bhutan Himalayan Climate Studies (BHCS) science dialogue held in Punakha, lecturer at the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS), Dawa Zangmo, said that despite villager’s little understanding of climate change, the Bhutanese community continued to live in harmony with the environment.
She added that it was important to understand the gap between Bhutanese cultural beliefs and climate change and also to synergise the two ideas (scientific education and local culture).
To better understand the role of cultural beliefs and changing climate, Dawa Zangmo and Dorji Gyeltshen conducted a survey in late 2019.
“Most people from Phochu side understood that the 1994 flood was due to GLOF. Around Mochu, though, a majority of people had religious reasons. Only a few believed that it was because of the global warming,” Dawa Zangmo said.
The reason for such difference in opinions was because people along Phochu are more sensitised in terms of the outburst flood, as it is a high-risk zone.
Among the religious beliefs, some here say that the flood is the way for local deity Ap Khachoep to offer timber to Zhabdrung, Dawa Zangmo said.
The preliminary findings also pointed out that Bhutanese cultural beliefs also built natural resilience to climate change through various practices.
Ladam, a customary sealing or closure of mountains such as in Buli tsho and avoiding burning plastics near Chubbu tshachu were some of the many examples cited.
Dawa Zangmo said that it was important to conduct in-depth study of historical documents and religious texts in context to local beliefs, and to conduct a comprehensive culture-related research in context of climate change.
“Evidently, religious beliefs were strong in the region. And even though the majority of villagers can’t comprehend the implications of climate change, through various cultural sentiment and beliefs they’ve done their part in living diligently with the environment.”
The BHCS dialogue series II was held at the College of Natural Resources on March 11.
Bhutan and India are two countries whose connection grows a lot deeper than the border we share. As Buddhism touched both our countries, as the Himalayas towered over us, we were destined to be connected. This friendship is beyond a simple diplomatic tie, but rather a deeper knot, dating to the birth of our deities.
The gift of 550,000 doses of the Made-in-India COVISHIELD vaccine is the truest manifestation of the friendship between India and Bhutan, arriving as these do at a time when we are confronted with our own national imperative to scale up vaccinations, following a resurgence of cases in India. This vaccine internationalization is at the heart of the Maitri initiative of the Government of India under which we have till date supplied 60.5 million doses of vaccine to more than 75 countries, and under which needless to say, Bhutan was a top priority for immediately being given doses of the vaccine.
The practice of “four immeasurables”, namely loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita) and equanimity (upeksha) are central to the teachings of Lord Buddha. Maitri- a sublime attitude of friendliness and altruism – is the cherished idea that each one of us is responsible for the happiness of other beings, besides our own. Through its vaccine diplomacy under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is doing just that. The world is one family, where guided by both a civilisational ethos and a contemporary outlook, we are determined to make a difference at a difficult moment for global society.
Indeed, the India story is one of extraordinary resilience and optimism. Through the Covid pandemic, we had supplied 150 nations with medicines, of which 82 were grants. As our own production of masks, PPEs, and diagnostic kits grew, we supplied them to other nations as well. In September 2020, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Modi had promised that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacities would be used to benefit humanity. True to this resolve, India has supplied vaccines to its friends and partners immediately after it launched its own vaccination drive – 75 countries and counting, till date!
India is also supporting the World Health Organization, the GAVI and the UNICEF-led COVAX Facility – nearly 18 million doses of vaccines manufactured in India have been supplied through COVAX to 37 countries.
A word on the vaccine. COVISHIELD is produced by the Serum Institute of India, located in the city of Pune. There is no place in the world which possesses such a manufacturing capacity, and there surely cannot be a nobler mission as the Institute continues to provide affordable yet state-of-the-art life-saving biologicals to people in need. COVISHIELD had received the nod for emergency use from the World Health Organization on 15 February 2021, and by all accounts, is a low-cost, logistically-manageable and safe vaccine with proven efficacy. Through the Institute’s monumental efforts, a multitude of countries have already been given doses of the COVISHIELD vaccine and a multitude of lives are potentially being saved daily.
Truly, Vaccine Maitri is a validation of India’s reputation as not only a world leader in high quality vaccine manufacturing but also a responsible actor in the international arena. At a time when “vaccine nationalism” is in the news for the wrong reasons, India is a shining example of human-centric global cooperation, where it will utilize its growing capacity for the benefit of human kind.
It has been India’s honor to stand resolute by the Royal Government, and as Bhutan gets set to embark on its mass vaccination programme, it is the Embassy’s privilege to wish the people and the Government of Bhutan health, healing and prosperity. Tashi Delek!
Ambassador of India to Bhutan
Despite recent conversations about menstrual health, more changes are necessary to improve women’s lives
The United Nations’ third Sustainable Development Goal aims to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all. Yet women all over the world must face shame, confusion, and unpreparedness every month due to cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation. These stigmas have material impacts on women’s lives and Bhutanese development; from school absenteeism during menstrual cycles, to infringement on religious rights, to highly taxed period products. Addressing misconceptions is crucial to overcoming discrimination against women and other marginalized communities.
The topic of menstruation in Bhutan is under-researched, but the conversation around women’s health is growing. So, what is the current menstruation landscape in Bhutan? And what needs to be done to achieve menstrual equity? These questions need clear answers for policymakers and civil society groups to improve women’s lives.
Studies show that Bhutanese people understand what menstruation is but not why it is caused. UNICEF and several government agencies, for example, found that 83% of schoolgirls and 43% of nuns recognized menstruation as a physiological process. However, 50% of survey participants did not know the causes of menstruation or perceived it as either a curse from God or a disease. The results demonstrate the need to cover these topics more deeply in school curricula.
In a separate study by WaterAid and UNICEF, researchers found that a key barrier to menstrual education was the fact that teachers often reported “inadequate knowledge and training” on the matter, while many felt “uncomfortable teaching life skills or sexual and reproductive health.”
The lack of menstruation literacy among teachers has wide-reaching consequences. First, students will not learn to make informed menstruation hygiene choices. Second, authority figures in schools will not contribute to normalizing a natural and healthy process for females. Finally, taboos and misconceptions will remain unaddressed. Clearly, there is a pressing need in Bhutan for more comprehensive menstruation education for both students and teachers.
Along with providing a place to learn, schools are meant to provide students with clean, functioning, and private spaces. Without proper water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities, girls will often stay home during their menstrual cycles. High rates of absenteeism can have detrimental effects on women’s lives and the Bhutanese economy more broadly. Deployment and maintenance of WASH facilities in schools and nunneries is, therefore, key to promoting female education and economic growth.
Periods can be extremely challenging for women due to various misconceptions and taboos prevalent in Bhutan. These range from beliefs that women should not enter temples while menstruating to the idea that women experiencing menstruation are being possessed by evil spirits. Menstruation hygiene practices such as drying reusable pads are also considered shameful among young adolescent females.
Misconceptions like these can have adverse effects on Bhutanese society for three overarching reasons. First, they can cause women to avoid seeking proper medical attention for menstruation-related conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections. Second, stigmas can negatively affect girls’ school attendance and performance. Roughly 32.5% of adolescent schoolgirls have reported skipping school during their periods out of fear others will make fun of them. Lastly, misconceptions can perpetuate gender-based discrimination by infringing on women’s religious rights. Not being allowed to enter temples while menstruating—a sacred right to religious practice—reinforces discriminatory practices against women.
Menstruation is a natural and healthy process. Oftentimes, however, even acknowledging the subject in public is thought to be inappropriate. Over 75% of adolescent nuns and 55.8% of schoolgirls, for example, deemed that it was important to buy sanitary pads without being seen.
That said, public advocacy on menstruation is changing attitudes for the better. Campaigns such as Red Dot and Happy to Bleed are designed to promote hygienic menstruation practices, address misconceptions and taboos, and protect women’s bodily dignity. Social media is also helping to normalize discussion about the topic. Social media accounts such as Global Shapers Thimphu and Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women (RENEW) actively share posts on menstruation and have become important advocacy tools that help cultivate a safer environment for Bhutanese females. These platforms are promoting healthy menstruation practices, calling out taboos and misconceptions, and giving a voice to women to change the status quo of our menstruation culture for the better.
During the pandemic, the government included sanitary products as an essential commodity. Growing companies like Chechay sanitary pads and flourishing online conversations around menstruation are signs of a society embracing women’s rights. The needle towards menstruation equity seems to be moving in the right direction.
However, there is much more to be done. Below are four recommendations to improve menstrual equity in Bhutan.
The Ministry of Education should prioritize educational reforms for both students and teachers to correct menstrual misconceptions. Education programs on menstruation in schools and nunneries should have tailored comprehensive course content that examines social attitudes on menstruation and covers menstrual hygiene management (MHM). For teachers, the government and NGOs should provide more consistently available resources, such as standard health curricula and MHM refresher workshops.
Focused national policies and budget support for menstrual hygiene products would improve MHM in a sustainable way. The government should implement a WASH policy that mandates safe, clean, and functioning facilities for menstrual hygiene, such as gender-specific toilets, provisions for disposing of period-related products, and handwashing facilities. Moreover, period products should be free, especially in schools. The Ministries of Health and Education, along with the National Assembly, should allocate budget resources to provide free sterile sanitary pads and other alternative products in schools.
Fiscal incentives are needed for menstrual equity. Similar to countries like Scotland and New Zealand, the government of Bhutan should abolish the “pink tax”—a 5% sales tax on sanitary products imported from India, and a 30% import tax plus 5% sales tax on sanitary products imported from other countries. Menstruation related products should be tax-free.
Menstrual advocacy should be part of greater sexual education generally. Conversations surrounding menstrual health and stigmas should be part of a broader push to tackle other sexual stigmas, such as homosexual and transgender rights. In supporting greater menstrual education, the government, NGOs, and youth organizations should also champion rights for all marginalized people facing sexual discrimination.
Mende Thuji Yangden
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Chukha, including Phuentsholing thromde, and Samtse are all set to roll out the vaccination programme today.
In Chukha, preparations have been made by the dzongkhag administration.
The dzongkhag deputy chief health officer, Gopal Hingmang, said all the health workers have been trained on how to use the Bhutan Vaccination System Portal and BVS offline Mobile App.
“We also completed the virtual meetings with regional heads, gups, gewog administration officers, mangmis, and health assistants,” he said. “The dzongkhag administration has also deployed medical officers in six vaccination clusters.”
There are 75 vaccination posts under Chukha dzongkhag. The first batch of health teams are moving to Getana, Dungna, Metekha gewogs and Baikunza chiwog starting from March 25, 2021, Gopal Hingmang said.
Chukha has received 27,859 vaccines on March 23 for 29,997 people eligible for the vaccination.
It was learnt 28,882 people, excluding Phuentsholing thromde, have registered for the vaccination out of which 14,604 are male and 14,216 are female. About 271 people disabled or with chronic illness will be vaccinated at the place of their residence.
There are 106 vaccinators, who have been trained for the programme. About 234 desuups and another 30 supporting staff will also help the vaccination programme in Chukha that starts today.
In Phuentsholing thromde, a 30-year old woman, who is a civil servant and a frontline worker, will be the first person to take the vaccine at the Phuentsholing middle secondary school.
Under the thromde, 21,138 people have registered for the vaccination as of 4:30pm yesterday. Of the total, 11,671 are men, 3,762 people have health conditions, 478 are breastfeeding mothers and 128 are pregnant women.
It was learnt that 320 people opted not to receive the vaccination. Phuentsholing thromde received 19,700 doses of vaccines.
Drungkhag health officer, Passang Tshering, said they have informed the health ministry for more vaccines. Phuentsholing thromde has six vaccination centres, while Phuentsholing gewog has seven.
A total of 86 health staffs and over 79 desuups will help in the vaccination programme.
Although Samtse received a total of 44,250 vaccines, the dzongkhag has kept a tentative projection of 45,706.
Dzongkhag’s senior health officer, Thinley Choden, said the numbers kept on increasing as people registered at the last minute. By 3:55pm yesterday, Samtse had registered a total of 46,354 people for vaccination. At the same time frame, a total of 7,518 people with health issues have also registered for the vaccination programme.
“However, the registration includes both pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children below 18,” she said.
If pregnant and breastfeeding women are willing to take the vaccine, the health ministry has made it clear that they will be provided the vaccination.
Meanwhile, despite the overwhelming number of registrations, Thinley Choden said the vaccines would be enough to vaccinate all the eligible people of Samtse.
Samtse has trained and prepared 24 teams headed by two to three health officials. In the remote gewogs, a doctor each has been identified, while two gewogs near the dzongkhag administration will have a doctor each.
“All of them have been sent to their respective places after the briefing by dzongdag,” Thinley Choden said.
To start the vaccination programme, two 30-year-old women, a teacher, who will take the first shot, and a nurse, who will give the shot, have also been identified in Samtse.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering, who is in Paro to witness the annual tsechu, will take the first Covid-19 jab today in Deyankha, Paro.
The lam neten, members of parliament and local leaders will also take the jab in the dzong.
Health officials and tshogpas set up vaccination centres in the villages. Paro has 36 vaccination centres.
According to dzongkhag health officer, Choki Wangmo, 12 vaccination posts would be open to the public today. “Others would open every consecutive day.”
Vaccination centres at the community health unit at Paro hospital and flu clinic will remain open to the public for a week. In contrast, Dogar and Naja gewog vaccination posts will be available for five days.
As of yesterday, 33,483 people registered for the vaccination of the 34,910 projected population in Paro.
Choki Wangmo said that the first week would only cater to people who do not have a medical condition and within the age frame above 18 to 70 years.
To avoid crowding, she said that the local leaders were asked to inform their respective residents to maintain specific timing.
In the other eight gewogs, the vaccination posts will remain open for a day or two.
Choki Wangmo said that the health taskforce would deploy enough people to cover the whole population in the chiwogs within a day or two.
Paro dzongdag Tenzin Thinley clarified that people could travel to other dzongkhag after vaccination.
He said that the health team and Desuups were already at the remote village, Nubri and Yaktsa.
Aligning with tendrel, the ‘first to receive’ vaccines in every centre was identified from the community based on their age. Lagay outreach clinic in Dogar gewog will start the vaccination programme by vaccinating a 30-year-old female born in the Buddhist year of the monkey.
In the meantime, officiating Haa dzongdag, Phurba Wangdi said vaccination centres at seven clusters, including six gewogs and municipal, would remain open for a week, and the health team would visit each chiwog to provide the services.
There are 27 vaccination centres in Haa.
The vaccination programme will start from Lhakhang Karpo by vaccinating a 30-year-old female born in monkey year and a nurse with the same age would provide the vaccination.
Haa has 8,545 people eligible for the vaccination and 7425 had registered.
Phurpa Wangdi said about 100 people are not willing to take the vaccination. “Through awareness programme, about 97 per cent of the population are willing to take the jab.”
Welcome back check-in session initiated to ensure students adapt to new normal
Yangchen C Rinzin
Students across the country returned to school beginning February, especially students of Classes PP-VIII.
Schools had remained closed since March 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many students were forced to learn through online education after Bhutan saw an increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases and two nationwide lockdowns. Many students said that they were happy to be back in school after almost a year.
Students said it was easier to learn through contact teaching with teachers around to clear their doubts, which was not possible with online education. Students complained about not being able to adapt to online education.
Tshering, a class VIII student of Lungtenzampa middle secondary school (MSS), said she could not study because she had to babysit when her parents were away for work. “By the time my parents are back, I’d be tired. I really wanted to go to school,” she said.
Students of classes IX-XII will start returning to schools in April since classes X and XII had their board examinations in March.
Ganasham Ghimirai, a class VIII student of Gelephu lower secondary school (LSS), said that it was a whole new experience when he returned to school. “But I felt like I was promoted to class VIII without learning anything,” he said.
Students of lower grades were first to go back to school after schools reopened. Students of schools like Thinleygang and Wangdue primary school (PS), Shengana and Dorokha LSS, and Khuruthang MSS will return to school only in April.
These schools were used to host students from Phuentsholing thromde after lockdown.
Tshering Dema, a class VI student of Sherubling PS in Trongsa, said that she really wanted to return to school last year. “I missed my friends and online education was very difficult. I had a hard time because my parents are illiterate and they couldn’t guide me with my studies.”
As much as students are happy, they are also worried they could contract the virus. However, many shared they are also aware of the safety protocols.
A parent in Phuentsholing, Rajesh, said that his son attended the school only for a week and, after the school closure, it became difficult for him and his wife to adjust. “We’re not teachers, and we didn’t know how to help our child with school work.”
During the school closure, the education ministry’s career education and counselling division saw more than 3,000 cases that approached for counselling through Sherig Counselling Service last year.
More than half were students and the majority wanted schools to reopen and wished to return to school.
Although there is no data to compare, many counsellors agreed that students were happy to be back to school.
“Calls for counselling about school-related issues have reduced,” a counsellor in Paro said.
However, the excitement to be back to school might not be the same for every child, according to counsellors. This is why, funded by the UNICEF, the career and education counselling division has come up with a “welcome back check-in session”.
Chief counsellor of career education and counselling division, Reena Thapa, said that session helped students affected by the pandemic and prepared them to go to school mentally prepared.
Reena Thapa said that different students would have had different experience during the school closure. Such a session, therefore, is essential for students, who had gone through difficulties at home and are still stressed.
“Many students, especially those transferred to other schools, mayn’t find it easy to bond. So the sessions help them bond with other students,” she said. “It’ll also help students adapt to new normal and help them move on.”
The session is conducted as and when the schools reopen, but only in 146 schools of the 609 schools in the country that has certified school counsellors.
There are 147 counsellors in the country today, including two on contract.
Reena Thapa said that the session focused more on students, who could leave the school again because of many reasons like not being able to cope with the new school, and on students, who are the victims of domestic violence and whose parents lost jobs due to pandemic.
“Having gone through problems, it’ll not be easy for a child to forget the issue affecting their studies,” she said. “The session will create a safe space for students to express the issues.”
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
As the nation gears up for mass vaccination, the two eastern dzongkhag of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse have received about 39,170 doses of AstraZeneca. The vaccine has been distributed to all the centres in the dzongkhags.
Health officials, clusters doctors, and security personnel are deployed in all the centres.
Trashigang dzongkhag has about 90 vaccination centres with 108 officials and 13 clusters doctors.
A highlander, Phurpa Dorji, said that most of the highlanders registered for the vaccine. “As the vaccine is a gift from His Majesty The King and the government, we’re excited to take the vaccine,” he said.
A villager, Sonam Dorji from Jangphutse, said that most of the villagers had registered for vaccination. “I’m convinced that the vaccine is safe. If one villager doesn’t take the vaccine, then there would be problems.”
He said that Jangphutse village, being near to the international border, people gave more importance to the vaccine.
Zangpo, 84, said that getting the jab was important to protect the whole nation from coronavirus. “I’ll take the vaccine and urge my family members and friends to take it too.”
Sonam Dorji from Jangphutse said that taking the vaccine was important. “Everybody should take it.”
According to health officials of Trashigang, about 29,511 people in the dzongkhag had registered for the vaccine as of yesterday evening.
Dzongkhag health officer (DHO), Gang Dorji, said that the dzongkhag had 15 vehicles for emergency use. “A 30-year-old woman will take the first jab here too,” he said.
Trashiyangtse dzongkhag has 62 vaccination places with 51 officials, 45 vaccinators and more than 62 security personnel.
Dzongkhag health officer, Tshewang Sithar, said the dzongkhag has eight cluster doctors and vehicles ready for emergency purposes.
The dzongkhag also deployed two additional vehicles at Trashiyangtse town and Khamdang gewog for emergency purposes.
Health officials said about 11,100 people in the dzongkhag had registered for the vaccine as yesterday evening.
Supplier unable to meet demand due to financial issues
It has been more than a month since Paro and other eastern dzongkhags ran out of commercial liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
Hotels that cater as quarantine centres in Paro had faced challenges, as they had to use borrowed subsidised and non-subsidised gas.
The procurement officer of Hotel Olathang, which is used as a quarantine centre, said that it had been more than a month since the hotel last received the commercial LPG.
He said that it was difficult to cater for lots of guests using subsidised LPG, which finishes in a day. “To avail subsidised LPG refill, we need to have a card, and the price of LPG is increasing by the day.”
Another hotel owner said that trade officials impose heavy fines if they catch hotels using domestic LPG, but they did not monitor when the regions were running short of commercial LPG for months.
With the introduction of commercial gas cylinders in 2017, hoteliers and restaurateurs surrendered their domestic LPG cylinders and switched to the commercial cylinder.
However, with no commercial LPG supply in the region, restaurant owners and hoteliers have been using green gas (non-subsidised) for their businesses.
The supplier of commercial gas in Paro, Jigme, said that he ran out of stock beginning February 5. He said that he had been receiving numerous calls and had collected multiple empty cylinders. “Customers are pressuring me and there are lots of issues.”
He said that he even complained about the issue to DoT but received no response so far. “Orders from the dzongkhag, quarantine centres, and other eateries are pending due to Paro tsechu.”
According to Bhutan Industrial Gas’s (BIG) general manager, Sonam Tenzin, the agent was unable to supply to the eastern and central parts of the country due to financial issues.
He said Paro would receive its stock today and the delay in supply was due to Covid-19 protocol while transporting the LPG.
The general manager said commercial LPG demand in eastern Bhutan dropped due to a limited customer and hotel and restaurants closures because of the pandemic.
He said that the sale reduced by 90 percent, costing the company a considerable loss.
The company also wrote to the Ministry of Economic Affairs in October last year requesting to increase the selling rate and dealer commission due to the impact of Covid-19.
It states that the company couldn’t pick the quota before the Covid-19 pandemic due to less demand and commercial entities illegally using domestic LPG. “Due to the pandemic, were not able to lift the 100MT quota.”
With a continuous drop in sales, it was difficult for the company to sustain, especially in Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu, with an average sale volume of one truckload in three months.
Besides, the increase in loading, unloading, transhipment, transportation, MDP and customs fees have further worsened the situation.
The department fixes the operational cost of LPG agents, such as transportation, loading and unloading.
Sonam Tenzin said, with a considerable expenditure, it had been more than a year the company ran at a loss.
An official with BIG said that the agent sold about eight truckloads of commercial LPG during Paro tsechu, but now it was difficult to sell even a truckload in a month.
She said that the company was out of budget and it was difficult to supply LPG.
Meanwhile, the Department of Trade’s officiating director Rinchen Lhazom said that a committee was reviewing the justification submitted by the private firm, as it directly impacts consumers.
She said the committee was reviewing the price and was expecting an outcome by the end of April.