Bhutanese patients seeking traditional medicines have been increasing steadily by about 10,000 patients a year according to the health system review report.
The National tradition medicine Hospital (NTMH) in Thimphu serves as the referral and teaching hospital and all district hospitals across the country have a traditional medicine unit.
Patients of both OPD and therapy cases registered with NTMH increased from 134,746 in 2011 to 173,057 in 2012, 182,291 in 2013, 185,083 in 2014 and 193,667 in 2015.
The top three conditions treated last year were gastritis with 5,036 cases, neurological disorders and arthritis with 3,283 cases and 3,203 cases respectively. “The pharmaceuticals currently supplies around 13 metric tonnes of traditional medicines a year consisting of 95 essential traditional medicines,” states the health system review report.
Under the national health policy of providing integrated, equitable and balanced health care services through a three-tier network system, the Bhutanese traditional medicine system was officially incorporated into the mainstream healthcare system in 1968.
Given the importance of traditional medicine units in all the district hospitals, the Ministry of Health (MoH) upgraded traditional medicine from a division to a department in 2013 with traditional healthcare, local healing and spiritual health and pharmaceuticals divisions.
Bhutanese traditional medicine is generally accepted by allopathic medical practitioners. However, for other traditional systems of medicine and alternative medicine, only some systems such as e-acupuncture are recognized by the BMHC. In 2016, the traditional medicines list had 114 essential medicines.
However, with the increase in patients seeking traditional medicine, some of the major challenges, even after the rapid expansion of infrastructure, human resources and technical capacity, are limited manufacturing capacity for sustainable production of traditional medicines and sustainability of wild crafted raw materials particularly those species that are highly poached or traded informally across the border.
Other major challenges are lack of research funds for new drug discovery and innovation and inadequate capacity at the teaching hospital.
The NTHM plans to introduce an inpatient facility for therapy services where the expansion and development of a good manufacturing practice complaint manufacturing facility will be incorporated.
Further, the MoH also plans to expand the services to the community level diversifying to include mental and spiritual health and to introduce a master’s degree programme in traditional medicine.
To streamline and provide quality traditional medicine services various guidelines such as service standard treatment guidelines, traditional disease codes and classification, therapy guidelines, good dispensing practice, monographs, and patient information management system have been developed over the years.