Bhutan and WHO

The World Health Organization was established in 1946 as one of the specialized agencies of the United Nations. Building on WHO’s mandate and its comparative advantage, six core functions have been defined for the Organization.

  • Providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed;
  • Shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge;
  • Setting norms and standards, and promoting and monitoring their implementation;
  • Articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;
  • Providing technical support, catalysing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity;
  • Monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends

Bhutan formally joined WHO on 8 March 1982. However the country had commenced to engage with WHO many years prior to this , the most significant being participation in the International Conference on Primary Health Care, in Alma Ata in September 1978. Bhutan formally adopted the Alma Ata Declaration of 'Health For All,' in 1979, as the guiding principle for the development of modern health services in the country.

Within the context Bhutan joined WHO to seek its support and technical guidance to develop and promote a modern health care system in the country.

It was during the tenure of Dr U Ko Ko as the Regional Director of SEARO that the basic agreement between WHO and the Government of Bhutan was concluded on 3 January 1983. The WHO Country office for Bhutan was established in Thimphu in 1983 and was first headed by a Public Health Administrator, Dr M. Saifullah. Dr B.A. Kawengian became the first World Health Organization Representative accredited to the country in 1989.

The (1982/1983) biennium began with just two programmes and a budgetary input of approximately US $ 258 470.

For WHO, Bhutan was a challenge and an opportunity. It was a difficult country given its rugged topography and scattered population. Further, at the time of initiation of cooperation, the communication infrastructure was still rudimentary with many of the districts still connected only by mule-tracts. WHO has collaborated since its inception and has had a WHO country office since 1989. The WHO collaborative programme with the Royal Government of Bhutan was first established during the biennium 1982-1983 with a budget outlay of USD 250,000 for two programme areas. The programme for collaboration based on successive 5-year Country Cooperation Strategies (CCS) signed with the Royal Government of Bhutan, has since grown to encompass over 40 public health program areas with a budget of over US $ 2 million per year. WHO is the lead technical partner of RGOB in the area of health and also works very closely with other sectoral ministries and national agencies active in the area of health. All national policies plans and programmes are developed and implemented by the Ministry of Health and national partners, thus ensuring full national ownership.

Over the past decade, the international public health landscape has changed, with many new partners and stakeholders working in international health. Similarly, the national health landscape has changed in recent years with changing population dynamics, epidemiological transition and rapid socio-economic development. The establishment of new regulatory bodies and emergence of non-governmental and community-based organizations, has added to the number of partners working in health together with the MOH and the few sectoral ministries traditionally associated with health.

The CCS 2005-2013 addresses six broad strategic areas:

  • Development of a National Health Policy;
  • strengthening human resources for health;
  • contributing to strengthening the national health system;
  • fostering improvements in maternal, child and adolescent health and nutrition;
  • helping to reduce the burden of the communicable and non-communicable diseases through key interventions focusing on health promotion and mitigation of risk factors and
  • enhancing partnership and resource mobilization.

The CCS priorities were consistent with the priorities of the 10th National Health Plan (2009-2013) and guided the development of the detailed biennial work plans over the period.

WHO has also been instrumental in mobilizing additional resources through Global Health Initiatives as well as through bilateral support from donors and development partners, including AusAID, The Global Fund, Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, The Global Environment Facility, and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.

WHO plays an active role in shaping the health component of the UN development assistance framework for Bhutan, partnering closely with other UN agencies through the Delivering as One approach adopted by the UN System in Bhutan, to further improvements in health outcomes in the country through its collaborative work in the areas of maternal adolescent and child health, HIV/AIDS and water and sanitation.