Dechen Wangmo, a Yale School of Public Health alumna from the class of 2007 and Bhutan’s Minister for Health, recently delivered a lecture at the School of Public Health, shedding light on Bhutan’s commendable COVID-19 response.
As the sole female minister in Bhutan’s cabinet and former president of the World Health Assembly, she highlighted the strong ties between Bhutan and Yale, praising Bhutan’s effective public health system and its successful pandemic response.
Wangmo proudly stated, “We managed to vaccinate 94 percent of our population in just four days.”
Bhutan’s national COVID-19 strategy revolved around four core principles: prevention, containment, protection, and routine surveillance. She emphasized the significant impact of behavioral changes during the pandemic, particularly the importance of handwashing, stressing the need for consistent messaging on disease prevention, especially in resource-limited countries.
Under the containment strategy, Bhutan aimed to control the virus’s spread and minimize transmission. Despite facing a shortage of nurses, Bhutan mobilized second- and final-year health professional students to assist in the fight against the virus. Wangmo also highlighted Bhutan’s agility in response, thanks to its relatively small population of just over 785,000.
Bhutan had only one doctor qualified to work in an intensive care unit, but its efficient referral system allowed patients in need of ventilatory care to be transferred to the capital.
The lecture resonated with students like Thritha Anand, studying environmental health sciences with a global health concentration at the School of Public Health. Anand appreciated the perspective on solidarity and the focus on global health beyond U.S. borders.
Yale’s longstanding relationship with Bhutan, spanning a decade, emphasizes equitable partnerships, as explained by Kaveh Khoshnood, an epidemiology professor and co-director of the Global Health Ethics Program. This partnership fosters trust and ensures mutual benefit in research projects, particularly relevant during a global health crisis.
Michael Skonieczny, deputy director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, believes that Wangmo’s lecture can inspire students to engage in global health initiatives, paving the way for future partnerships.
Wangmo also outlined her goals for Bhutan’s future, focusing on health security, social security, and economic security. She aims to strengthen Bhutan’s health system and workforce while building a resilient public service system.
Currently, Bhutan lacks a medical school, and its students often attend schools in India, Sri Lanka, or Bangladesh. Wangmo sees American schools, like Yale, as potential partners to invest in Bhutan’s capacity and competency in healthcare.
Since taking office as Minister for Health in 2018, Wangmo has been dedicated to improving Bhutan’s healthcare system and fostering international partnerships, including with institutions like the Yale School of Public Health.