The Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Board of Directors has approved a $20 million grant financing package to support the efforts of the Government of Bhutan to improve the equity, efficiency, and sustainability of the country's health system.

ADB's support, which includes a $14 million policy-based grant and a $6 million project grant both sourced from the Asian Development Fund, will help Bhutan to progress toward universal health coverage based on the principles of primary health care and to achieve targets under the Sustainable Development Goals.

"Investing in an effective and efficient health care system is crucial for the pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development of countries like Bhutan," said ADB Senior Health Specialist Ms Hayman Win. "ADB's assistance will help Bhutan's health system to become more relevant to the evolving needs of the population with an increased focus on primary health care."

Bhutan has had great success in improving its health system over the years, with life expectancy at birth improving from 43 years in 1985 to 70.2 years in 2017. Child immunization coverage has also been sustained at more than 95% since 2010. However, there are some challenges, including increasing the cost of health care, the rise in non-communicable diseases, and persistent regional disparities in health outcomes, which are straining the current health service delivery.

Health Sector Development Program

The Health Sector Development Program will strengthen the delivery of primary health care, especially in underserved areas of Bhutan. It will establish five satellite clinics on the outskirts of urban areas, upgrade existing primary health care facilities, provide medical equipment, improve quality assurance, and promote healthy behaviour changes. The program also has policy measures to strengthen the Bhutan Health Trust Fund for financing primary health care commodities and to enhance health information management.

A $500,000 grant, financed by ADB's Technical Assistance Special Fund, will fund capacity development to support the implementation of the program, which is expected to be completed by August 2023. ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2017, ADB operations totalled $32.2 billion, including $11.9 billion in co-financing.