In a departure from normal health services here, the project also aims to involve the local community in providing health care.
"A hospital doesn't just fall down from heaven or, in this case, the health ministry," said Dr Richard Frey. "Local citizens should participate in health services and support it."
Dr Frey, who served in Wangdicholing hospital in the 70's, said that, since 2000, health services in the hospital had remained almost the same. "The population has increased, the number of patients has increased, but the equipment has remained the same." He added, "There should be at least one or two doctors at the hospital, but there's only one; and sometimes, even that doctor is away, like for further training." He also explained that medical services should be available for 24 hours, which is not possible with only one doctor. "There are many things to be improved."
"In 1974 it was just a two storied building," said Dr Frey, "no water supply, no lights, wooden floors, and ceilings through which dust would fall through every time someone walked above you." With limited equipment, the Swiss doctors treated everything from bear attack victims to the common cold, he said. The present project, he said, will not only provide doctors but also equipment.
The present project, if successful, will be replicated in other dzongkhags by the government.
of Bhutan's oldest and closest development partners, Helvetas or Swiss
association for international cooperation, has signed a new general cooperation
agreement, that will be valid for a period of five years or till the end
of the 10th plan.
New areas of cooperation are to be explored under the new agreement in decentralized governance. Helvetas was the first NGO to come to Bhutan with initial cooperation in the livestock sector. Helvetas opened its office in Thimphu in 1983 and Bhutan established formal diplomatic relations with Switzerland in 1985.
The Swiss Association for International Cooperation, Helvetas might withdraw bilateral assistance to Bhutan after the 10th Plan comes to an end (in June 2013) according to officials of Helvetas Bhutan.
The resident coordinator of Helvetas in Bhutan, Mr. E Werner Kuelling, said that Switzerland had signed the Paris Declaration, which mandated that the cooperation between industrialised and developing countries should be more harmonised in future. "It says that the industrialised countries should give more budget financing to the developing countries and not bilateral project funding," he said.
"As per the Paris Declaration Switzerland committed to withdraw bilateral project funding and go more in multilateral funding and budget financing," Mr. E Werner Kuelling said.
"But it doesn't mean that we don't want to provide financial aid to Bhutan anymore," Mr. Kuelling added. "Helvetas would continue the bilateral projects and it is up to the government to tell us what they really want and need."
When Helvetas initially told the government that they would withdraw by 2008 or 2010, "there was a strong reaction from the Bhutanese government," said Mr. Kuelling. "The government wanted us to continue the partnership when the country was going through unprecedented transition and we agreed to stay till the end of the 10th plan."
"After the 10th plan we are open but nothing is certain, we will have to wait and see," said Mr. Kuelling. "The government might tell us that it will take over the projects or they might want us to stay. However, both the government and Helvetas have to be willing and happy if we are to stay after the 10th plan."
Mr. Kuelling said that an area of interest for Helvetas was 'good governance', which needed building up infrastructure at the gewog, district and national level and to train people at all levels.
"Just building up local infrastructure would not work," he said. "We have to implement things in a more practical way to ensure that it is successful."
As the former Secretary General of Helvetas, Switzerland for a long time Mr. Kuelling said Bhutan had achieved the best results compared with all the 22 countries that Helvetas was operating in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Bhutan's success, he said, could be attributed to its excellent leaders Bhutan has had.
Cooperation between Switzerland and Bhutan sprang up in 1950's through friendship between the third King and a rich Swiss businessman, Mr. Fritz Von Schulthess. Later, few rich Swiss members provided money for development activities in Bhutan and the "foundation pro Bhutan" was established. In 1975, Helvetas took over the activities of the foundation.
Initial areas of cooperation were in rural development, renewable natural resources (RNR) and education. Future projects were also with a focus on RNR in agriculture, forestry, livestock and environment.
In recent years, Helvetas has committed about USD 5.00 million to USD 6.00 million annually said Mr. Kuelling.
Describing his tenure in Bhutan as a "fruitful and a wonderful experience" the outgoing resident coordinator of the Swiss Association for International Cooperation (Helvetas/SDC), Mr. Erwin Koenig, said that he was sad to leave Bhutan at a time when the country was seeing major political and development changes.
The outgoing resident coordinator explained that it was important for development partners to work together for better results. "There is nothing that you can just pick up from your country and place it in another, how well tailored it may be," he said. "We have our own knowledge and capacity which need to be put to work together."
In an interview with Kuensel the new resident coordinator, Mr. E Werner Kuelling, who had served as the Secretary General of Helvetas/SDC for more than 30 years, said that there was no better way than to end his professional career in international cooperation working in Bhutan. "It was my choice to come to Bhutan," he said, "to the country where I have developed close relationships since my first visit in 1979."
Kuelling said that although both Helvetas and Bhutan had made mistakes in
the past the development relationship was a successful one. "Bhutan has
always been the most successful development partner of Helvetas," he said,
adding that the success story was because of a good leader and stability
in the country.
Mr. Kuelling said that creating employment opportunities and development of the private sector were two key areas of focus during his tenure.
Since its establishment in July 14, 1975, Helvetas has assisted in areas like agriculture, animal husbandry, natural resources, forestry and education. Today the bilateral development programme in Bhutan averages about seven million Swiss Franc a year.