Saturday, August 8, 2020

July 2020│THIMPHU-BHUTAN: In the last six months Jan-June 2020 the Ministry of Health has detected 34 new HIV cases (15 male and 19 female). The majority (68 %, n=23) of them are between the ages of 25-49 years old while 3% (n=1) are between 15-24 years of age, and 26% (n=9) above 50 years. However, there is one mother to child transmission. Among the new cases, 13 are from farmers, 08 from housewives, 01 each are from private business, civil servants, corporate, drivers, unemployed and minors. In terms of mode of transmission 33 of them have acquired infection through unprotected heterosexual and 01 from Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT).  The medical screening remained the highest mode of case diagnosis with 38% (n=13) followed by voluntary and counseling testing (32%, n=11), contact tracing (6%, n=6) and (9%, n=3) through antenatal check (ANC) while (3%, n=1) through blood donor screening. 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.  

“One of the biggest challenges in responding towards the prevention and control of HIV is people not coming forward for testing despite making HIV testing services available in all the health centers across the country including the private diagnostic clinics and standalone Health Information and Service Center (HISC). It is the individual responsibility to know one’s HIV status to keep yourself and your sexual partners healthy, if diagnosed you will have a better chance of living a long and healthy life through quality treatment. Therefore, I urged all those visiting the hospitals for other illness to also take opportunity to test for HIV to improve the knowledge of your HIV status”, Said Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, the Hon’ble Health Minister. 

The Director, Department of Public Health, Dr Karma Lhazeen said: “The Ministry of Health is also looking forward to introducing community lead testing to reach the unreached high-risk populations as a pilot project very soon” She further added that such innovative measures are needed with a change in time to encourage more people to get tested on time. She also added, “HIV partner notification or contact tracing is one of the effective methods to identify those undiagnosed people who may have exposed to HIV through his or her sexual or injecting drug use partners who were diagnosed as HIV positive”. 

Therefore, she urged all the newly diagnosed HIV positive person to extend full support in identifying their sexual contacts or injecting drug use partners for timely diagnosis and treatment. She also mentioned that contact tracing is carried out under 100% confidentiality.   

Although there is a sign of stabilization of HIV epidemic in Bhutan with an average case detection of 55 cases for six years resulting into the case detection gap of 45% as of June 2020. This shows that only 55% of the estimated 1300 people living with HIV in Bhutan know their HIV status and the remaining 579 PLHIV are still unaware of their HIV status. The total cumulative cases reported from 1993 until June 2020 stands at 721 (374 male and 347 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 old while 15% are between 15-24 years old and the remaining 6% below 15 years of age and then 10% above 50 years. This shows that HIV in Bhutan has primarily affected the most economically productive age group. About 93.8% of them have acquired HIV infection through the heterosexual route, 5.4% from mother to child transmission (MTCT), 0.4% each from Injecting Drug Use and blood transfusion (Outside Bhutan). 

One of the aspects of HIV prevention and control is reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV at all levels of our societies and health care settings. In the early 1980s when the AIDS was first diagnosed there was very little known about how HIV is transmitted, and all the HIV/AIDS awareness are always associated with death. The situation was further worsened when there is no appropriate treatment during the initial stage of the HIV epidemic. At present; as a result of more scientific evidence the high-quality antiretroviral treatment has been introduced to help HIV positive person to reduce their HIV virus in the body and improve their immune system to stay healthy and live a long life. We must know timely testing is the only means to know your HIV status to initiate early treatment to prevent you from getting into the AIDS stage. 

**************************************************

Mr. Lekey Khandu

Program Manager  

National HIV, AIDS & STIs Control Program 

Department of Public Health, Ministry of Health.

Mobile No: +975-17425548, 

E-mail lkhandu@health.gov.bt