Suicide case

During question hour today, I asked the minister for works and human settlement if and when wages for the National Workforce would be increased. This issue has already received considerable attention in the National Assembly.  Still, I went ahead, hoping to push the government to raise the wages of our workers. It didn’t work.

And during question hour today, I wanted to ask a second question, this one on an issue that we have not talked about at all in the National Assembly. I’d wanted point out the growing number of suicide cases in the country. And ask the minister of health if the government was responding to this terrible trend.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to ask this question, as the Hon’ble Speaker did not allow it.

I’m worried that the number of suicide cases in our country is unusually high. And I’m worried that it is increasing.

In one month alone, in January 2009, 15 suicide cases were reported around the country. In January and February this year, 13 cases were reported.

According to police records, there were 53 suicide cases in 2008 and 49 cases in 2009. This year, as of April, the police have already recorded 25 suicide cases.

By any measure, these numbers should give cause for concern. But considering our small population, and our emphasis on GNH, these figures should be alarming.

25 suicides in 4 months. That, extrapolated, is 75 cases 12 months. That works out to 11.9 suicides per 100,000 people. And that would place us at number 34, if we were included in the list of countries by suicide rate.

Something is gravely wrong. And we – all of us, not just the government – need to do something about it.

Why I’ve been lazy

Three reasons why I’ve been less than diligent with my posts recently:

  1. The National Assembly is in session;
  2. The World Cup is on; and
  3. My cough persists. It refuses to go away, and has kept me, and my family, awake for many frustrating nights. But, countless home remedies and two ill-advised rounds of antibiotics later, good sense eventually prevailed – I consulted a physician. The specialist ordered a sputum culture, identified the offending bacteria, prescribed the right antibiotic, and, just like that, I’m already feeling better.

War against malnutrition

Today is World Health Day. It is a good time to reflect on the health of our people. And to remind ourselves that we still need to wage a war against malnutrition. So I’m reproducing what we discussed last November on this serious problem:

Six weeks ago, the Annual Health Bulletin announced that 37% of our children are stunting, that 4.6% of them are wasting, and that 11.1% are underweight.

This week, we learnt that the Right to Food Assessment Study concluded that 26.6% of our households are undernourished. That would also roughly mean that about a quarter of our population is undernourished. The study, it seems, was conducted sometime last year by FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture.

And recently, the Basic Health Worker in Chali has reported that “the number of malnourished children under the age of five in Chali geog under Mongar has almost doubled in just one year.”

We now know, from independent sources, that our people are undernourished. And that our children are stunting, wasting and underweight. So what are we doing about it? Not much. In fact, we seem to be doing nothing to specifically address this crisis.

What should we do? “Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION,” cries Zekom. This is what Zekom implores:

Reducing poverty, especially rural poverty, is an obvious answer.

But, children cannot wait for Drukyul to get richer. Our nation’s future is being made NOW.

Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION. Take the nourishing food to where the children and infants are — in schools and beyond schools — targeting the nutrition and trace elements missing in their diet.

Make sure to measure outcomes, in physical growth rates of beneficiary children, very frequently. You’ll be amazed how fast it works, if it’s done right. There’s nothing better than rapid positive results to fuel the FIRE in change agents’ belly, and inspire others to join hands.

Countries such as UK, Germany and Japan benefited from such programmes after the World War II. Concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil were delivered to every household with children under certain age in UK. Milk and various sources of vitamins were delivered to every infant and school lunches in Japan. Who financed these? USA. It was the top priority in their postwar reconstruction assistance efforts.

Recruit UNiCEF, UN World Food Programme, and other UN agencies as partners, and tap their global know-how on how to do it and do it right.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Visiting Linda

My previous entry about Paro Airport’s security, prompted Linda Wangmo, a regular contributor, to cry out for help about a situation at our hospital. Listen to her!

Security security…….. Lucky our OL and other big shots do not have to spend a night in our hospital… The ward reminds me of a prison in one of the movies.. The G4s armies. They dont even let me share a simple meal with my ailing mom….

Active Thimphu

I'm loving it

I'm loving it

Gyamtsho and I went biking today. We started from our home in Taba and rode through Dechenchholing, Samteling, Zilukha and the Royal Boulevard to the Clocktower Square where we had lunch at the Musk. From there, we cycled uphill: to the Memorial Chorten, then, via the Ring Road (above the hospital), to the Buddha Statue in Kuenselphodrang. We then rode back home: downhill towards the Memorial Chorten, along the Royal Boulevard, below the golf course, and on Dechen Lam to Taba.

I’m happy that I got some exercise. And, that I got to spend some time with my son who has already outgrown me. But, I’m also happy because, while biking, I noticed a lot of people playing and exercising today.

I saw children cycling and skating, students returning from karate classes, an all girls cricket team, and people playing basketball, volleyball, khuru, golf, dego, and archery. And along the road to Kuenselphodrang, I saw people walking and jogging, some obviously returning from day treks. I even saw one group flying big, beautiful homemade kites – they promised that they would start a kite-flying club!

Perhaps it’s because today is a Sunday. Maybe, it’s because our students are on holiday. But, there were a lot of people enjoying the outdoors. And, that came as good news, especially since non-communicable diseases are on the rise in urban Bhutan.

Dr Chencho for Changemakers

Helping out

Helping out

Ashoka Changemakers have announced the finalists in a competition to select the three most innovative solutions that radically rethink mental health to achieve individual and community well being. And, Dr Chencho Dorji’s project, Promoting Mental Health Treatment in Traditional Bhutanese Society, has made it to the final12 entries.

Dr Chencho Dorji needs your vote to make it to the winning three entries, and be recognized by Changemakers. To vote, you will first need to create an account at Changemakers. A step by step account on how to vote is available here.

Dr Chencho Dorji is a senior psychiatrist at the JDWNR Hospital and, for the longest time, was the only person treating drug abuse, alcoholism and mental disorders in Bhutan.

The polls will be open for only two more days, so please take a little time – immediately, if possible – to vote for our own Dr Chencho.

Photo credit: BBC

On the warpath

Six weeks ago, the Annual Health Bulletin announced that 37% of our children are stunting, that 4.6% of them are wasting, and that 11.1% are underweight.

This week, we learnt that the Right to Food Assessment Study concluded that 26.6% of our households are undernourished. That would also roughly mean that about a quarter of our population is undernourished. The study, it seems, was conducted sometime last year by FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture.

And recently, the Basic Health Worker in Chali has reported that “the number of malnourished children under the age of five in Chali geog under Mongar has almost doubled in just one year.”

We now know, from independent sources, that our people are undernourished. And that our children are stunting, wasting and underweight. So what are we doing about it? Not much. In fact, we seem to be doing nothing to specifically address this crisis.

What should we do? “Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION,” cries Zekom. This is what Zekom implores:

Reducing poverty, especially rural poverty, is an obvious answer.

But, children cannot wait for Drukyul to get richer. Our nation’s future is being made NOW.

Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION. Take the nourishing food to where the children and infants are — in schools and beyond schools — targeting the nutrition and trace elements missing in their diet.

Make sure to measure outcomes, in physical growth rates of beneficiary children, very frequently. You’ll be amazed how fast it works, if it’s done right. There’s nothing better than rapid positive results to fuel the FIRE in change agents’ belly, and inspire others to join hands.

Countries such as UK, Germany and Japan benefited from such programmes after the World War II. Concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil were delivered to every household with children under certain age in UK. Milk and various sources of vitamins were delivered to every infant and school lunches in Japan. Who financed these? USA. It was the top priority in their postwar reconstruction assistance efforts.

Recruit UNiCEF, UN World Food Programme, and other UN agencies as partners, and tap their global know-how on how to do it and do it right.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

GAVI award

“I think I know why babies today hardly cry,” my father remarked as he bounced his granddaughter on his knee, ten years ago. “They hardly fall ill – they are vaccinated!” Father was right.

And, GAVI, which recently honoured 15 low-income countries for excelling in child health and immunization, thinks so too. They recognized Bhutan for achieving the highest coverage of immunization.

That Bhutan has achieved 95% immunization coverage is commendable. After all, we are a poor country with a scattered population, much of which lives in remote, hard-to-reach areas.

Just consider the challenges involved in achieving such high immunization coverage. First, our governments have had to adopt policies that support immunization. Second, our governments have had to make funds available to implement immunization policies. Third, those funds have had to be used wisely to procure the right vaccines. And fourth, those vaccines have had to be actually administered to every child, throughout our country.

I congratulate our governments, present and past, for attaining near complete immunization coverage of our children. More importantly, I congratulate and thank our health workers for making sure that every child in every village, in every corner of our country, has been vaccinated.

Well done!

More food for thought

Sangay made three critical observations to my last entry. Most of you would already know that I try not to reply to criticism, especially those targeted at me. But Sangay’s comments are constructive. So they deserve serious consideration.

First, Sangay cautioned: “… don’t just add up those figures – I am pretty sure that these are overlapping figures.” Sangay may be correct. In fact, Ken Shulman, a friend and journalist in America, also made a similar comment in my Facebook profile.

But look at the numbers again: 37% of our children are stunting; 4.6% are wasting; and 11.1% are underweight. Now, if the figures do, in fact, overlap, the numbers may be smaller (but can never better 37%), but the problem could be bigger. Overlapping figures give rise to three possibilities: one, that children who are stunting are also underweight (which would compound the impact of stunting); two, that stunting children are wasting (a terrible possibility); and three, that underweight children are wasting (ie., are starving).

I agree with Bhutanese Blogger: a study of the trend would be more meaningful. Still, with or without knowing the past, the facts speak for themselves: at least 37% of our children are seriously underfed. And, even if we intervened with full force, there’s little that can be done to reverse the adverse effects that stunting has already had on these children. But – this is what’s terrible – we will not intervene wholeheartedly. We cannot. Not unless we accept the problem.

Second, Sangay blames capitalism for “robbing our children”. This is a point of ideology. So it cannot be argued.  Everyone would want to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. And, there’re basically only three ways to do that: make the rich relatively poorer; make the poor relatively richer; or do both.  Personally, I favour the second approach. I want our poor to become richer relative to their present state, and relative to the rate at which the rich may grow richer.

And third, Sangay did not like that I had raised an issue (undernourished children) without offering solutions. This, specifically, is what Sangay wrote: “And, Don’t mean to be harsh but just don;t give a food for thought (being the OL) – which is the biggest problem. It is easy to make noise but I would assume that in your position, you should come up with ideas which will really give us a REAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT. I can go on complaining about every statistic in the country but I can’t come up with REAL IDEAS – which is what we need at the moment.”

Other readers have expressed similar concerns too. And, about six months ago, I wrote about why I sometimes raise issues without offering solutions. In other words, why I make “noise”. “Food for thought” sought to bring attention to the desperate and shameful state of our children.  The facts were presented in the Annual Health Bulletin, and the story was run by one newspaper. Still, this critical issue has not been given any meaningful attention.

Numbers generated by our government tell us that about half our children go to bed hungry every night, and yet we – yes, all of us, not just the government – refuse to discuss, let alone accept, this fact. That’s why I made noise.

If the noise is just that, noise, then don’t give it any more attention. Don’t waste your time.

But, if the noise points to an important issue, then let’s think about it. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. And if you have suggestions, please share them here.  Let’s discuss them. They will help me craft the letter I intend to submit to the government concerning our undernourished children.

Traditional fertility treatment

Fertile grounds

Fertile grounds

I read, with interest, Kuensel’s story about Tibetan traditional infertility treatment that is said to be effective in treating 70% of women who are unable to conceive. The same article quotes the National Institute for Traditional Medicine as confirming that serkhaps (golden needle acupuncture) and traditional medicine can successfully treat infertility.

But, in addition to traditional medicine, we, in Bhutan, also seek fertility from a wide range of local deities, monasteries, and festivals. Chimi Lhakhang, for example, has granted offspring to countless struggling couples, including international tourists.

There are many interesting stories about Chime Lhakhang. If you know any, please share them here.

The photograph of Chime Lhakhang is from Bhutan-360.com