Min­istry of Health de­tects 23 new HIV cases

Bhutan Times - - Home - Rinzin Lhamo

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.

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