The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is by far not in the radar of the world’s most advanced countries. However, it has set the record of launching the world’s fastest immunisation drive. Bhutan vaccinated 62% of its eligible citizens in just 1 week outstripping both the UK and the US. Read to know more.
The inoculation rate of Bhutan had been seven times that of India and nearly six times the global average. It is worth noting that it has managed this feat with an acute shortage of doctors. WHO recommends a doctor to population ratio of 1:1000. Going by this, Bhutan required 700 more doctors. Then how did this tiny kingdom manage the rapid rollout of the vaccine to approximately 7.5 lakh citizens?
We did our bit of research to understand what are the things that any other country can learn or replicate. We truly understand that there will be differences in geography, homogeneity, culture, lifestyles. Yet, we have distilled Bhutan’s success into 8 crucial factors that can be simulated almost anywhere else for better preparedness in coming times.
Handpicking executives with scientific expertise:
PM Lotay Tshering is a surgeon himself while the health minister, Dechen Wangmo, has specialisations in oncology and epidemiology from prestigious American Universities. The presence of medical experts within the decision-making process enabled Bhutan to provide precise, authentic, and effective public guidelines.
Bhutan’s unique philosophy:
Bhutan’s government has always promoted socio-economic policies with a holistic approach that prioritises the collective happiness, health and well being of its people. For this, it had even innovated Gross National Happiness(GNH) index as an alternative to GDP. Bhutan also provides free basic healthcare for all.
A timely response to the pandemic :
Bhutan’s success could be attributed to its timely response to national health emergencies. After detecting their first case, Bhutan had immediately closed its border and the residents returning from abroad were asked to stay in quarantine. Early screening, testing and sealing of borders had helped in slowing down the spread of the virus.
As a part of its regular mock drills, just a month before the pandemic, Bhutan had practised a mock drill simulating the national response to a global pandemic. This has been their habit to run these drills to be prepared in times like these. It helped in identifying the weaknesses in the system. An invaluable role was played in the campaign by an army of volunteers, locally called “desuups.” They delivered vaccines to healthcare centres and educated the people to follow the protocols. Social distancing and mask-wearing among citizens did half the job. The citizens were advised to book for appointments and follow-ups. Bhutan has had a record of successful vaccination programs. It helped the current vaccination program run smoothly on the systems already in place.
Effective utilization of available resources:
Since Bhutan was short of nearly 700 doctors, its dedicated citizen volunteers, desuups, came forward to help their country. Bhutan trained primary school teachers, university students and shifted technicians from other government programs to be desuups, helping the medical staff in providing essential services and navigating through the rough terrain.
Apart from free testing and medical services, all meals and accommodation alongside psychological and mental support were provided freely by the state at designated quarantine facilities. It had also provided economic and social support to those who had to stay in isolation. Their community-based primary care ensured that no individual felt overwhelmed by the hardships owing to the pandemic.
Many countries like Nepal had to suspend their campaigns due to the lack of availability of vaccines within the country. However, Bhutan’s diplomatic relations with India ensured that it received 1,50,000 doses from the Serum Institute of India in January itself.
Community-oriented value system:
The vaccination drive involved the participation of everyone from the highest authority to the local community. Right from planning to implementation, the initiative turned out to be a massive success with the active participation of citizens. All MPs donated their one-month salary, farmers donated their hard-earned cash crops, businesses and hoteliers offered their hotels as quarantine facilities. It seemed like the entire nation had come together as a force against the pandemic.
On the grounds of good values, sound governance, scientific temper, effective communications to and with the people, Bhutan was able to stave off the devastating effects of the pandemic. Though it’s size and homogeneity have been vital contributors for such a meticulously run program. Any country can definitely a borrow a page from their guidebook and apply and evolved version that best fits their citizens.