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HIV and AIDS: growing national burden

More needs to be done to fight HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS in Bhutan are spreading like a wildfire. Some might step in to disagree. But we need to understand the numbers. We are a small population and the impact of such a disease can be far-reaching.

The fact is that every time there is a new report from the Ministry of Health about the disease, we find a rise in the number of HIV+ cases in the country.

This is worrying.

With 24 new HIV positive cases, a total of 60 cases have been diagnosed so far this year. Since the first case was detected 25 years ago in 1993, the number has reached 597. 

There are today, according to available records, 452 Bhutanese living with HIV+; 422 are on antiretroviral treatment.

HIV and AIDS is preventable disease. Where are we lagging?

There are also worrying number of default and non-compliant cases. Because of a deep-seated stigma, many refuse from getting tested. This means probability of disease proliferation is high.

We know that close to 80 percent of those living with the disease are between the ages of 20 and 49 years.

This means if we do not increase our pace in fighting the disease with efficient means, a large number of our active population could be affected.  The impact can be devastating.

The introduction of mobile HIV testing and counselling services, viral load services to monitor the treatment efficacy and installation of close to 60 condom vending machines have been laudable initiatives. Voluntary testing and medical screening have led to high detection level–more than 37 percent in each department. 

According to the latest report, about 22 percent of the cases were detected through contact tracing and four percent through blood donor screening.

We aren’t doing enough, certainly. 

Condom use and safe sex have been found to be highly unpopular among the Bhutanese.

Housewives, farmers and business people are still the most vulnerable group, followed closely by drivers and civil servants. 

What this tells us is that the whole spectrum of our society is at risk. 

Our fight against the disease, therefore, should be more focused.

Beginning with promoting safe sex and condom use, the programme should focus primarily on destroying the stigma if we are to fight successfully against the threat of the disease. Otherwise, all our efforts could be at the best slapdash. Repercussions could be grave.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that much needed to be done to bridge the current case detection gap of 45 percent through innovative HIV testing methods like community. 

She is right. But how much have we invested beyond salutary assurances?

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