Bhutan recognises WHO Regional Director, confers gold medal at National Day

The King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk honoured Dr Khetrapal Singh at Bhutan’s 116th National Day celebration

December 28, 2023 12:12 pm

Thimphu: Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia, has been awarded Bhutan’s prestigious National Order of Merit Gold Medal for her distinguished services to the country.

The King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk honoured Dr Khetrapal Singh, an Indian national, at Bhutan’s 116th National Day celebration.

“Dr Khetrapal Singh played a pivotal role in supporting transformative healthcare leadership in Bhutan from 2014 to 2024. Her tenure witnessed remarkable strides, including Bhutan becoming one of the first countries to eliminate measles and rubella ahead of schedule. She made significant contributions to help Bhutan excel in COVID-19 vaccination,” the King said.

“Dr Khetrapal Singh’s impactful strategies extended across communicable diseases, reproductive health, health systems, and social determinants, and had a lasting positive impact on Bhutan’s public health services,” he said.

In a video message post the award ceremony, Dr Khetrapal Singh thanked His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk for the award. She said, “As Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia for the last decade, it has been my vision to address priority health issues through eight flagship programmes, and promote health and wellbeing for everyone, everywhere.”

The Regional Director said Bhutan’s efforts and achievements in the last decade have been exceptional – eliminating polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus, measles and rubella, taking the lead in WHO South-East Asia Region for addressing mental health and making efforts to eliminate cervical cancer by expanding HPV vaccination and screening. The country is making exceptional efforts to address other non-communicable diseases. Bhutan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was commendable.

“With the ongoing focussed interventions, I am confident of and also wish Bhutan many more laurels in public health in the coming years,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

During her decade-long term, the Region has witnessed unprecedented advances in public health, especially around her flagship programmes.

The Region eradicated polio and eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus. Bhutan and four other countries eliminated measles and rubella. The Region’s share in global measles deaths dropped from 40 per cent in 2014 to 8 per cent by the end of 2021.

Countries initiated mainstreaming screening, diagnosing and treatment for noncommunicable diseases at the primary health care level and rolled out multi-sectoral responses to address key risk factors for non-communicable diseases.

Between 2010 and 2021, the Region recorded 69 per cent decline in maternal mortality, the steepest globally; 45 per cent decline in under-five mortalities, 39 per cent decline in neonatal mortality and 54 per cent decline in still births. The availability of doctors, nurses and midwives increased by over 30.6 per cent since 2014.

Dr Khetrapal Singh identified the elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTD) as a regional flagship. Six countries have eliminated at least one NTD. Two countries eliminated malaria. Three eliminated mother-to-child transmission of syphilis and HIV. Four countries achieved hepatitis B control through vaccination.

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