Between November 2017 and June this year, 27 new Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive cases were detected in the country – a 15 females and 12 males.
The total number of HIV cases detected since 1993 in the country today stands at 597.
The country today has 452 people living with HIV virus, of which 422 are on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. Defaulter and non-compliant cases account for thirty individuals.
Of the new cases, About 78 percent is between the ages of 20 and 49 years; 22 percent are aged above 50.
Going by the occupational background, 30 percent of the new cases are amongst the housewives. Farmers and private or business people follow with 26 and 19 percent respectively. About seven percent are drivers and four percent civil servants.
Maximum number of new cases was diagnosed through voluntary testing and medical screening – 37 percent each. About 22 percent was detected through contract tracing and four percent through blood donor screening.
A press release from the health ministry states that in terms of route of transmission, 100 percent of them have reported that they have acquired the infection through unprotected heterosexual route. “All the 27 new cases are linked to care and treatment at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu.”
According to the National HIV/AIDS and STIs Control Programme, young age sexuality, multiple sexual practices, low-risk perception, sex under the influence of alcohol, increased mobility and low condom use were some of the key factors that contributed to acquisition and transmission of HIV in Bhutan.
The health ministry is constantly educating the public and reaching out to the most at-risk and vulnerable populations with the comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention services, the press release states.
Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk said that every time someone gets tested for HIV the health system is one step closer to ending the AIDS epidemic. “Learning your HIV status opens the door to powerful HIV prevention and treatment options that could save your life or the life of someone you love.”
Department of Public Health’s director, Dr Karma Lhazeen, said education, awareness, prevention, and treatment are the key to ending HIV epidemic in the country. However, the existence of social and self-stigma deters timely diagnosis and treatment.
Based on the 2018 UNAIDS estimation for Bhutan, the country is supposed to detect a cumulative of 1,265 HIV cases.
“We need to move on war footing pace to bridge the current case detection gap of 53 percent,” Dr Karma Lhazeen said. “We can only end HIV/AIDS if we address stigma and ensure young people are central to the response.”
Introduction of mobile HIV testing and counselling services, installation of 55 condom vending machines in 13 priority dzongkhags to promote condom use, rolling out of treat all policy to ensure all those diagnosed with HIV are on ARV treatment, and introducing the viral load services to monitor the treatment efficacy are some of the new initiatives towards prevention of HIV and AIDS in the country.
Certain body fluids like blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions and breast milk from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV.
These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream from a needle or syringe for transmission to occur.
Abstaining from unprotected sex, being faithful to one’s partner, the right use of condom and not abusing drugs are some of the ways to prevent transmission of the virus.