Meet Gomchen Wangchuk - Recognised By UNICEF As The Man Who Helped Eliminate Goiter In Bhutan

Together with support from the Bhutanese government, Bhutan Salt Enterprises (BSE) contributed to IDD-elimination.

Gomchen Wangchuk seen at his iodised salt plant. (Source: Kuensel)


By Rajesh Rai | Kuensel

It was 1983. Gomchen Wangchuk, 49 then, had already made up his mind. Alone, he headed to the Indian capital of Delhi.

His journey had not been an easy one. Without any formal education, he had to compete with government officials to get iodisation assistance from UNICEF in Phuentsholing.

“Prior to my visit to Delhi, two Bhutanese government officials had already been there before me to pursue the same deal,” he said, adding that the UNICEF office did not finalise the support with them back then. “But I got it!”

This led him to set up Bhutan’s first iodised salt plant which is known as Bhutan Salt Enterprises (BSE) and thus began the country’s battle to eliminate iodine deficiency disorder (IDD).

In 2004, UNICEF recognised Gomchen Wangchuk for his role in bringing iodised salt to Bhutan which helped to eliminate IDD. He has also contributed to the construction of Mani dungkhars and a lhakhang.

More about Gomchen Wangchuk

A familiar figure in Phuentsholing, Gomchen Wangchuk claims that he is a contented man.

“Although I didn’t make much profit, I am happy because I helped eradicate goiter,” he said. “The iodised salt even benefited animals in Bhutan.”

With so much passion for his cause, his beard has even turned into the colour of the salt he produces.

Originally from Trashigang, Gomchen Wangchuk came to Phuentsholing in the 1970s. He used to serve in the royal court.

Initially, Gomchen Wangchuk tried the common salt business. He imported salt from across the border and distributed it in Bhutan. He then decided to supply iodised salt in Bhutan and commit to his philanthropic passion.

Today, the BSE produces about 800 bags of iodised salt a day from 8 am until noon. Each year, the plant produces about 60,000 metric tonnes of iodised salt. One bag of iodised salt weighs 37.5kg and costs Nu 250. BSE sells a kilogram of iodised salt at Nu 12 a kg, a rate that is fixed by the trade department.

Health issues prevalent in Bhutan in the 1980s

Back in 1983, statistics revealed that the prevalence of goiter was at 64.5 percent in Bhutan. Other problems like cretinism, retardation, slow brain and intelligence development in children and women were also high.

In order to combat these health issues, UNICEF provided the iodisation plant with machinery, equipment, laminated bags (to protect the iodised salt) and chemicals for iodisation.

According to Gomchen Wangchuk, the UNICEF office in Delhi had told him initially that iodisation through injections would suffice in Bhutan and they refused to help. Since he was already doing salt business, it took him only a week to convince UNICEF to support the iodisation of salt.

Three months after his visit to Delhi, the equipment reached Phuentsholing. The Iodised salt plant was set up and production began in 1984.

Positive results following the efforts of the Bhutanese government and BSE

Together with support from the Bhutanese government, BSE contributed to IDD-elimination. Within a period of five years since 1985, the IDD impact study showed that iodised salt had reached villages across the country. This had significantly helped reduce goiter, stillbirths in pregnant women and mental retardation.

UNICEF’s international mid-decade goal was to take iodised salt to about 95 percent of the homes in the country by 2000. By the early 2000s, diseases related to IDD dropped drastically in Bhutan. This was attributed to the fact that more than 90 percent of the population consumed iodised salt.

In 2003, Bhutan finally eliminated iodine deficiency completely. The WHO representative for Bhutan, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus mentioned that goiter which used to be a common feature in the past, is now a rarity.

Laigden Dzed, a nutritionist who is also the programme officer with the nutrients programme at the health ministry, said that Bhutan has been able to maintain the IDD-elimination status since 2003.

“However, another round of scientific study will be conducted in the 12th Plan,” he added.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.


Related Posts

Observing World Health Day in the Highlands of Merak and Sakteng

“Bhutan provides free health services to its people and by expanding the services to remote areas like Merak, it shows...

Apr 12, 2018 00:20

Duenmang Tshachu – A Popular Hotspring Known for its Healing...

Gothpo, 76, who has visited the tshachu, said that the Kheng Duenmang tshachu is a renowned hot spring with 'great...

Jan 19, 2018 11:17

Efficacy of Traditional Bhutanese Medicine

Research carried out by a postgraduate student at the faculty of traditional medicine under Khesar Gyalpo University of...

Nov 07, 2017 07:39

Singaporean Woman Helps a Leprosy Couple

A Singaporean woman helped renovate their one storied dwelling and provided the family with mattresses and rations to...

Oct 22, 2017 10:12

WHO presents citation to Bhutan for eliminating measles

Bhutan and the Maldives became the first two countries to eliminate measles in the WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR)...

Sep 09, 2017 21:40

Mobile Gynaecological Clinics in Bhutan

The health ministry will have a mobile gynaecological clinic that will provide other specific services for women in all...

Mar 07, 2018 01:47



Drukair Orders New Aircraft That's Equipped With Latest Visual Technology

The new ClearVision technology on the aircraft allows pilots to get a clear picture of the runway while landing the aircraft.

Jul 19, 2018 12:47

After 9 Years, The Amochhu Bridge In Bhutan Finally Opened On 14 July 2018

The driving distance between Phuentsholing and Samtse is now reduced to 57km from 81.2km

Jul 18, 2018 14:57


Bhutan's climb to medicines safety

Pharmacovigilance is the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse drug...

Jul 17, 2018 14:31

11th Golden Youth Award Camp Aims To Inspire Bhutanese Youth To Excel Holistically

The camp’s theme ‘Celebrating Unity for Excellence’, is a pledge by the youth to be advocators and agents of peace, harmony and...

Jul 12, 2018 16:14


Future Of Bhutan’s Women Football Depends On The Development Of Local Coaches

The football coach of the national women’s team, Sung Jea Lee said that there is a need to train local coaches.

Jul 08, 2018 18:16

Bhutan’s Two Young Representatives Shared Their Unforgettable Experiences At The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

Bhutan was represented by two students, Rigzin Tenzin, 12, from Gelephu and Kinley Deki Yangzom, 12, from Lobesa Lower Secondary School,...

Jun 30, 2018 14:06


Cottage And Small Industry Which Saw 20% Growth Is A Pillar Of Bhutan’s Industry Sector

To date, the CSIs constitute more than 90 percent of Bhutan’s industry sector.

Jul 19, 2018 13:46

Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Has Generated Profits And Served More Than 500 Tourists And Locals Since 2016

The RBHS was launched with the primary objective of providing services during medical emergencies and natural disasters and also for tourism...

Jul 14, 2018 14:23


Heading To Haa, Bhutan For The Summer Festival? Here Are Some Culinary Delights You Must Not Miss!

Savour the most delectable cuisine from the province of Haa in Bhutan.

Jul 13, 2018 14:54

Rare Masked Dances - One Of The Unique Features Of The Kholong Tshechu (Brawl Festival) In Bhutan

“Other dances like the Pha-dong chham, Sangling Ngachham, and Terchham among others are not performed in any part of the country,” said...

Jul 03, 2018 14:44


Suja – Bhutanese Butter Tea Infused With Happiness To Kickstart Your Day

Traditionally, Suja is made from tea leaves, water, salt and yak butter.

Jul 17, 2018 17:19

Bhutan Film Festival Held In Sikkim To Commemorate 50 Years Of Bhutan-India Friendship Ended With Colourful Traditional Dances

Bhutanese celebrities and Sikkim’s local artists performed various traditional and cultural performances at the festival.

Jul 15, 2018 14:32

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!