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Govt. spent Nu 27M to treat alcohol related diseases

Economic burden of alcohol abuse in Bhutan could amount to Nu 6B a year, finds study

The health ministry spent about Nu 27 million (M) to treat alcohol related diseases in the country last year, up by a million from 2015.

Alcohol abuse is a major public health issue and alcohol liver disease leads the top 10 causes of death in the country, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said at the National Assembly yesterday.

He was responding to Chumey-Ura MP Tshewang Jurmi’s question on the government’s annual spending in treating alcohol and related diseases at the question hour session.

Lyonpo said that while revenue from sale of alcohol is substantial, it does not compensate for the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity, and premature deaths occurring in the society.

According to a study conducted in 2014, the estimated economic returns in trade is Nu 1billion (B) which calculates to approximately one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

However, Lyonpo said the net economic effects must be carefully measured after discounting direct and indirect social costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the forms of loss of productivity, property damage, years of life lost and foregone income. “The economic burden in Bhutan could amount to Nu 5B in the same year excluding the economic returns.”

Studies in other countries have recorded an economic burden of alcohol consumption exceeding five percent of GDP.

MP Tshewang Jurmi said alcohol is a big threat to the country’s progress, socially and economically. He questioned the government on major steps it took to reduce alcohol consumption, the implementation status of alcohol reduction policy and the status of alcohol consumption in the country.

Considering the problem, Lyonpo said a National Policy and Strategic framework to reduce harmful use of alcohol 2015 – 2020 was approved by the Cabinet and an executive order was issued to all dzongkhags and agencies for implementation.

“National Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee, chaired by the home minister conducts regular meetings to review the implementation status,” Lyonpo said. “Stakeholder meeting is organised regularly to review their progress and report to the committee.”

Dzongkhag alcohol harm reduction committee was formed and more than 60 percent of the gewogs have formed gewog alcohol harm reduction committee.

The secretariat of the committee, Department of Public Health follows up on the implementation status in the dzongkhags.

As per the National Health Survey 2012, Pemagatshel, at 53 percent has the highest rate of current drinkers among the age group between 18 and 75 years.  Zhemgang and Mongar follow with 48.9 and 41 percent, respectively.

Speaking to Kuensel after the question hour session, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said the implementation of community expansion programme including the formation of gewog level alcohol harm reduction committee and intervention has reduced harmful use of alcohol. “Similar expansion programme is planned for implementation in other dzongkhags with high current drinkers.”

According to the STEPs survey, 2014, every two in five (42.4 percent) adults between 18 and 69 years currently drink alcohol. Among them, one in five or 22.4 percent engage in heavy episodic drinking which means they drank six or more drinks on any occasion in the past 30 days.

Dechen Tshomo

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