Ministry of Health detects 23 new HIV cases
The Ministry of Health has detected 23 new HIV positive cases and the increasing number of HIV cases and growing risk behavior of the population are one of the public health concerns in Bhutan.
The National AIDS Control Program, Ministry of Health has released its epidemic update report from June-December, 2016 and showed 23 new HIV cases. Out of which 13 were males and 10 are females including 1 minor. Almost 80% of the total reported cases represent the individuals from private businesses and next from all occupational groups.
The majority (78%) of them are between the ages of 20-49, 17% above 50 years and rest below 5 years of age. Among the 23 new cases, 09 of them are detected through voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), 07 while undergoing medical screening, 5 through contact tracing and 2 during antenatal care visits (ANC). In terms of route of transmission, 96% of them are through heterosexual and 4% through Mother to Child Transmission. In 2016 alone Ministry of Health detected a total of 55 HIV cases.
The Health Minister, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that there is no need to get alarmed; the increased in a number of HIV cases over the period is an indication of people understanding the importance of HIV testing. He said, “The number is more likely to increase as the health ministry further intensifies its HIV testing program to bridge the case detection gap by 2020”.
The Director of Public Health, Dr. Karma Lhazeen said “HIV infection in Bhutan was not confined to a specific group of the population; rather it has infected all the occupational groups. This has resulted in difficulty to focus our interventions on one specific population thus making it more challenging”. She also mentioned about the ministry’s initiative in rolling out the test and treat all policy to meet the global target of ending AIDS epidemic and making new transmission rare by 2030.
The cumulative number of cases reported as of November 2016 stands at 515 since 1993, out of which 265 are males and 250 are females. Among the males the highest number (140) of cases has been detected in the age group of 30-49 years while among the females majority (114) of them falls in the age group of 20-29 years. In the lower age group, 14% of females are below the age of 20 years as compared to 5 % in males.
This shows that more number of young age females are infected as compared to men thus making young age female more vulnerable to HIV infection. In terms of route of transmission, most of them have acquired HIV infection through the heterosexual (92%), mother to child transmission (7%) and 01% consist of injecting drugs and blood transfusion (outside the country) respectively.
In terms of diagnosis, the contact tracing remains the dominant mode of case findings that is around 30% followed by medical screening (20%) and Voluntary Counseling Testing (21%) while 29% of it comprises of surveys, ANC and blood donation screenings including the construction sites. At present, there are 390 people living with HIV virus in the country and among them, 273 are surviving on lifelong antiretroviral (ARV) treatment while 34 has died.
As per the UNAIDS estimation of 1100 HIV cases in Bhutan, there is still a case detection gap of 53%. This shows that many people are still not aware of their HIV status. One of the main reasons for people delaying taking up HIV test is because HIV remains in our body without any signs and symptoms for several years ranging from six to ten years. This is evident from the epidemic update report that many cases are detected at very late stages when the immune system has deteriorated and unable to defend the body from infections. The young age sexuality, multiple sexual practices, low-risk perception, sex under the influence of alcohol; increased mobility and low condom use are some of the key factors that contribute to acquisition and transmission of HIV in Bhutan.
The Program Manager, National AIDS Control Program, MoH, Mr. Namgay Tshering said that the program is constantly educat- ing the public and also reaching out to the most at-risk populations. He said, “Activities such as proactive right based HIV testing including the focus testing for key geographic and population hotspots are some of the priority activity to achieve the national goal of “Bridging the case detection gap by 2020”. He further explained that having knowledge on HIV status is a single most important step to make an informed decision about one’s health.
The prevention of HIV is the responsibility of all, starting from an individual to the various stakeholders such as government, NGOs, private sectors and people living with HIV. The most viable solution to prevent oneself from being infected is to abstain from unsafe sex, be faithful to one’s partner and use a condom correctly and consistently. This year the world AIDS Day will be observed in Thimphu at Clock Tower on 1st December, 2016 with the theme “Prevent, Test and Treat”. Ministry of Health will also organize a testing camp at the same venue on the same day. Know you HIV status-Get Tested.