Modern healthcare was introduced in Bhutan in the 1960s. However careful attention had always been given to traditional practice and the people’s perception of illness. This has ensured that the modern healthcare services and indigenous medical services develop simultaneously.
Herbal-based, traditional medicine is well established and integrated into the general health services and remains a popular form of healthcare. Access to traditional medicine in the country has been greatly increased with 31 traditional Drungtshos (Doctors) providing indigenous medical services in all Dzongkhags (Districts). Traditional medicine continues to hold an important place in the formal healthcare system as it not only adds an important dimension to the country’s system of healthcare, but also provides an alternative form of healthcare.
An integrated healthcare delivery system was foreseen as an effective strategy to reach the scattered population in Bhutan’s rugged terrain. The declaration of Alma Ata in 1978 adopting a primary healthcare approach to achieve ‘Health for All’ has also served accelerate health service development in this direction.
The government has maintained a system of complete free healthcare for not only the Bhutanese citizens but also all those who reside in the country. In 1961 there was hardly any modern facility in Bhutan. Today, the country has more than 29 hospitals, 160 Basic Health Units and a 90 percent health coverage with basic services. The health status of the population has improved markedly, especially during the last 10 years. National surveys conducted in 1984, 1994, and 2000 showed a tremendous increase in the access to safe drinking water and dramatic decrease in mortality and morbidity. The population growth rate has been brought down from 3.1 percent in 1994 to 2.5 percent in 2000.
The national healthcare delivery system is characterized by the central level being responsible for the administration, training and major referrals , and the Districts managing the delivery of basic services to the population through a network of Districts hospitals, Basic Health Units (BHUs) and outreach clinics (ORCs).