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Focus and priority key to solving regional health problems

Last week’s first regional coordination meeting in Thimphu to identify bottlenecks and measures to tackle crossborder migration issues relating to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis and malaria in the region, brought to the fore some significant challenges facing the region.

We have done well with our health targets. It has not been easy even with our small population, but the remarkable successes we have had so far is thanks to our concerted effort to address some of the major health issues confronting the people and the nation.

The region has a long way to go to eliminate HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. The target year is 2030. Bhutan has made significant strides when it comes to addressing these pandemics, in terms of getting people tested, treatment, and providing access to preventive measures.

But, regionally, we are not doing enough.

Every year, millions of people die from HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria in the region due to inadequate infection control measures, lack of crossborder notification, coordination and information sharing platform, which result in case detection gaps.

Bridging this gap is about each country doing enough individually. Drawing from the lessons, from our own, it is not about lack of resources and capacity. The problem lies in not recognising the problems in the face. This means understanding the greater implications of the diseases and the need to bolster the fight with sustained political will.

In the region, these have been conspicuously missing.

Crossborder migration should not be an issue if all the countries of the region did their best to improve testing and treatment facilities. Preventive measures ought to be made widely available. As was observed at the meeting, an individual country cannot work out population movement and harmonise health programmes in the border areas successfully.

Education and awareness must not take the back seat. But that’s just the beginning; the regional coordination mechanism stands to fail otherwise. Sharing data and disease statistics can go only far and no further.

The burden from the proliferation of communicable diseases can be huge on the societies. Besides the lives of the individuals and families, implications can extend to the economy and productivity of a society. When these dimensions of development are considered, closing the border is inane and impractical at best.

Ten years is not a long time when we bring these serious and growing health burdens in the region into perspective. There are other health issues that demand the attention of modern societies.

Little can be achieved without focus and priority. Meetings and coordination mechanisms are already becoming needlessly expensive.

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