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 Daily Bhutan.


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



Largely Funded By The Asian Development Bank, Bhutan’s First Mini-Dry Port Is Now Completed

The Asian Development Bank funded 81 percent of the total budget as grant while the Bhutanese government funded the rest.

Feb 15, 2019 11:35

Highlights Of The Year Long Bhutan-India Golden Jubilee Celebrations Which Wrapped Up On 8 Feb 2019

“The events reminded us how deep our economic, spiritual and cultural links are,” said the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Jaideep Sarkar.

Feb 09, 2019 19:07


One Third Of The Hindu Kush Himalayan Glaciers Could Melt By End 2100: ICIMOD Study

Bhutan will see a rise in temperature higher than the regional average of the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

Feb 13, 2019 17:56

To Eat ‘Snacks Or Snakes?’ Discover The Idiosyncrasies Of Bhutanese English

Bhutanese English differs from standard English not only in terms of its accent and pronunciation but also in the usage of words while...

Feb 12, 2019 18:52


Bhutan’s HRH Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck Attended The General Assembly of the Asian Paralympic Committee In Dubai

The General Assembly is the highest decision making body of the Asian Paralympic Movement.

Feb 08, 2019 18:15

9-Year-Old Boy From Bhutan Completes Gruelling Cross-Country Cycling Race

While many thought that the boy would give up after 5 to 6 kilometres, others were concerned that he might get injured.

Feb 01, 2019 16:52


Bhutan Shortlisted As A Finalist For The Intellectual Property (IP) Sharing Project 2019

Bhutan has been selected as one of the four finalists out of 13 countries.

Feb 14, 2019 18:38

Bhutan Records Lowest Inflation Rate In 2018 At 3.13 Percent

For the measurement of the current Consumer Price Index, prices are collected from a sample of 557 outlets.

Feb 11, 2019 18:42


Revival Of Khurul Lake In Lhamoidzingkha – A Special Lake Where One’s Wishes ‘Can’ Be Fulfilled

Today, the lake is fast becoming a tourist spot for both Bhutanese and tourists from abroad.

Jan 20, 2019 15:47

Here’s What It’s Like Inside Asia’s Best Hotel - COMO Uma Punakha In Bhutan

Luxury resort COMO Uma Punakha was awarded best hotel in Asia and third best hotel in the world, by Conde Nast Traveler's Readers Choice...

Jan 18, 2019 17:05


Tshering Zangmo Represents Bhutan At The 5th Young Chef Olympiad In India

Tshering Zangmo has successfully made it to round two of the Olympiad.

Feb 04, 2019 16:35

Bhutanese Boyband O'Strangers To Play In Pattaya For 2 Months

They are the first Bhutanese rock band to perform at Hard Rock Cafe Pattaya in Thailand.

Jan 04, 2019 15:13

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!