November 2019│THIMPHU-BHUTAN: In the last six months from June-November 2019 the Ministry of Health has detected 24 new HIV cases (15 male and 09 female). The majority (58%) of the reported cases are between the ages of 25-49 years and 38% above 50 years and 4% between 20-24 years. Among the new cases, 12 are from farmers, 03 from business community, 02 each are from housewives, drivers and corporate while 1 each belongs to uniformed personnel, religious body and student category. In terms of mode of transmission 23 of them have acquired infection through unprotected heterosexual and 01 from anal sex. The medical screening remained the highest mode of case diagnosis with 54% followed by voluntary and counseling (VCT) 21%, contact tracing 17%, and 4% each through antenatal check (ANC) up mobile testing. Currently all the new cases are being put on care and treatment at the JDWNRH. Total of 60 HIV cases have been diagnosed in 2019 alone.
“In last two decades we have made good progress in case diagnosis and treatment coverage among the people living with HIV (PLHIV). Our universal access to HIV testing services and treat all policy has benefited the people living with HIV to lead quality life. However, we still need to do more to bridge the current case detection gap of 45% through innovative HIV testing methods like community lead and self testing”, said Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, the Hon’ble Health Minister. “Scaling up access to HIV testing is critical to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, offering everyone the right to know their HIV status through high-quality national HIV testing programmes that respect every individual’s dignity and human rights is important.” Lyonpo added
The Offtg. Director, Department of Public Health, Mr Rixin Jamtsho said: “The social and self-stigma continues to be the barrier for accessing the testing and counseling service which is one of the major challenges for the Program. However, we are going for an aggressive contact tracing to encourage voluntary partner notification to enhance timely case diagnosis” He further mentioned that, Ministry of Health is trying to enhance the accessibility of the service for testing and counseling by mapping all the local hotspots in the major urban areas and then mapping of the local festivals in the country to carry forward the mass awareness and testing for the key and vulnerable communities with slogan of reaching the unreached population.
Although the HIV cases in Bhutan is increasing over the period, with an average case detection of 55 cases for last five years, there is still a case detection gap of 45% as of November 2019. This shows that only 55% of the estimated 1265 people living with HIV in Bhutan know their HIV status and the remaining 569 PLHIV are still unaware of their HIV status. The total cumulative cases reported since 1993 until November 2019 stands at 687 (359 male and 328 female). Like many other countries in the region, the majority (70%) of the reported HIV cases in Bhutan is between the ages of 25-49 years while 15% are between 15-24 years and the remaining 9% above 50 years. This shows that HIV in Bhutan has primarily affected the most economically productive age group.
Ninety-Three per cent of them have acquired HIV infection through the heterosexual route, 5.5% from mother to child transmission, 0.15% from anal sex and 0.44% each through injecting drug use and blood transfusion (Outside the country). Although Bhutan is calming to have low and diffused HIV epidemic but of late the evidence shows the likelihood of experiencing concentrated epidemic. However, it needs to be revalidated to further understand the source of infection to develop most appropriate interventions.
The prevention of HIV is the shared responsibility of all individuals irrespective of their HIV status which ideally requires a concerted effort in minimizing the stigma and discrimination at all levels. HIV if detected early can now be suppressed and person can live longer through healthily living style and medication. HIV can transmit from person to person only if infected body fluids such as (Blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions and breast milk). The four main ways where these fluids can come in contact with each other are having unprotected sex, Transfusion of HIV infected blood or blood products, sharing of HIV infected needles, syringes, blades, piercing instruments and HIV infected pregnant mother to her child. The simple ways to prevent HIV and AIDS is to abstain from sex, be faithful to one’s partner, use a condom correctly and consistently and do not use drugs.
This year the World AIDS Day will be observed in Samtse on 1st December 2019 with the global theme “Communities make the difference” Ministry of Health will also organize a mobile National HIV Testing Week in Metekha, Dungna, Lokchina and Part of Phuentsholing Gewogs under Chukha Dzongkhag from 30th Nov to 8th December 2019 with the national theme “Engaging communities to bridge the case detection gap”.
Note: Media houses are cordially invited to these events. The following official is available for queries and clarification both during these events or any other time before and after these events:
Mr. Lekey Khandu
National HIV, AIDS & STIs Control Program
Department of Public Health, Ministry of Health.
Mobile No: +975-17425548,