Bhutan has been exemplary in the way it responded Covid-19. Virtually all of the more than 530,000 eligible adults (anyone in Bhutan with no history of allergy to COVID-19 vaccines were eligible) received the first dose. The first batch of AstraZeneca potion was a gift from India, and the UN helped advocate and support the cold chain.
One of the features of Bhutan is the fact that there are many communities that live in remote geographical areas. The government coordinated its approach and reached out to all these remote communities often by helicopters, with vaccinations, which were often distributed on foot by health workers, sometimes walking from village to village, across ice and snow.
Volunteers are a very important component of Bhutan’s success. They support the Ministry of Health, for example, with logistical support for vaccination programs, and manage quarantine facilities. They have also been very effective in implementing the lockdown, and have also assisted in distributing food and vital supplies during that time.
The Bhutan National Volunteer Scheme (De Suung, or “Peacekeepers”) had already been in operation for about four years prior to the outbreak. Then, with the onset of COVID-19, people realized that volunteers could support the Ministry of Health and other ministries, and thus reinforce and reinforce the plan. As a result, they have become a key success factor in Bhutan’s ability to respond very effectively to COVID.
A time of strict quarantine
Bhutan had some 1,300 confirmed casesWith only one death, according to data released on April 19. No single health worker was injured.
In normal times, there is a reasonable amount of cross-border movement, but the government is currently guaranteeing very narrow borders: Anyone coming into the country needs to be quarantined for 21 days.
Within Bhutan, there is a real commitment to social distancing. Personal protective equipment is provided everywhere, and gatherings are kept small. When there is even a small outbreak of the virus, those specific areas are closed.
UN Photo / Jill Fickling
Support the dying person
While Bhutan managed to avert a health crisis, the economic impacts were dire. The country relies heavily on tourism, and we know the recovery in this sector will be slow: unemployment has risen to 14 per cent.
Meanwhile, the UN is supporting the most vulnerable and looking for ways to build self-reliance and resilience: We are supporting the government’s strategy to increase home food production; We have programs that address challenges related to gender-based violence and mental health; We support the government’s strategy to become financially sustainable, for example, by introducing a smarter tax system.
Bhutan is the land of “Gross National Happiness”. This is the fundamental value of this country, and the moral and practical compass that the country pursues. It often means that the Bhutanese take care of each other, including the most vulnerable.
During the lockdown, we saw this strong element of community support, as well as common sense on the part of residents: They accepted that there were good reasons for the lockdown, and that everyone should work together.
Despite the success we have had so far in dealing with the epidemic, with extremely low transmission rates and high rates of vaccination, everyone recognizes the need to remain vigilant. Bhutan has a limited number of ventilators and oxygen: Bhutanese have seen what is happening in the rest of the world, and they do not want to get into this kind of situation, so there is a very strong will on the part of everyone here to maintain this constant vigil against complacency with Covid disease.
© UNICEF / PINS