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Chapter 13 HEALTH Modern Health Care Modern healthcare was introduced in Bhutan in 1961. Until then, the people relied on a rich indigenous medicinal system known was So-WaRigpa (wisdom of health) for preventive and curative measures. Buddhist rituals and the village shaman played an important role in health. In the last three decades, the country saw great strides in the health sector. In 1961, there were only two hospitals (Thimphu and Samtse) and 11 dispensaries (Haa, Paro, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashigang, Sipsoo, Tsirang, Samdrup Jongkhar, Kalikhola and Dagapela) and only two trained doctors in the whole country. Communicable diseases were widespread, and more than one-half of the children died at birth or within the first few years of their lives. Smallpox epidemic sometimes wiped out whole villages. In some parts of the country, malaria claimed hundreds of lives each year, while in others diseases such as leprosy deformed and ultimately killed many people. Water supplies were largely confined to springs and streams.


Traditional Medicine Services Bhutan’s traditional medicine services is called So-Wa-Rigpa which is based on Indian and Chinese traditions and incorporates ancient medical practices connected with magic and religion. Despite the introduction of modern medicine, So-Wa-Rigpa, has retained its role in providing health care. Ever since its introduction in the 17th century, So-Wa-Rigpa has played a significant role, along with spiritual remedies offered by religious institutions. It was recognized as the official medical tradition and integrated into the health system in 1967.

viding traditional medicinal services in all Dzongkhags of the country. The rich tradition of indigenous medicine, based primarily on herbal treatment, is kept alive by the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services, established in 1998 at Thimphu and 26 traditional units scattered across Bhutan. Several forms of treatment are applied in traditional medicine, including indigenous surgical procedures such as gtar (blood letting), bsregs (cauterization), gser khap

Acupressure by a golden needle is very effective in treating vertigo

Applying hot compression on pressure point to treat tinnitus

The inner mandala of subtle essence and energy currents used in tantric practice as the basis for spiritual transformation

Herbal steam application

Lily Wangchhuk

Access to traditional medicine in the country has greatly increased with 38 traditional Drungtshos (doctors) pro-


(acupressure by a golden needle), tshug (cauterization with instruments of different herbal compounds), dugs (applying heat or cold to parts of the body), byugspa (medicated oil massage), sman-chu (stone-heated bath), tsha-chu (bath at hot spring) and lum (vapour treatment). Diagnosis is made by the physician mainly through the reading of the pulse. Using the So-Wa-Rigpa


method, it is possible for physicians to detect diseases of any organ by reading the pulse. The eyes, tongue and urine are also examined for signs which helps the diagnosis. The components of traditional medicine include plants, minerals, animal parts, precious metals and gems which are all used in different combinations to make over three hundred medicines in the form of pills, tablets, powders, ointments and syrups. These traditional medicines are produced entirely for domestic consumption, though there is a plan to eventually export them in the future.

Various ingredients which includes plants, minerals, precious metals and gems are used for preparation of traditional herbal medicines. Mox cauterization treatment for relief from rLung disorders

The wheel of five elements in healing and treatment

HEALTH : Chapter 13: Facts about Bhutan  

Traditional and modern medical facilites.

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