HIV: Of the 20 dzongkhags, only 18 have reported Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive cases in the country, so far.

An official with the National AIDS Control Programme, Jurmi Drukpa, during a workshop in Paro said that except for Gasa and Trashiyangtse, all dzongkhags in the country have reported HIV positive cases.

However, Jurmi Drukpa said that it does not mean that the two dzongkhags do not have HIV positive cases.

It only means that the health facilities in these two dzongkhags have not reported any cases.

“We have people from Gasa and Trashiyangtse that have been infected with HIV but they have been detected in other dzongkhags,” he added. “If we look at the permanent addresses of the people who are HIV positive, then there might be people from the two dzongkhags.”

The country has had HIV testing services in the hospitals since 2006. However, with  improvement of the service, the number of cases is increasing in terms of detection, Jurmi Drukpa said.

He said that until 2011, the health ministry reported cases as and when they have new HIV positive detections.  From 2012, the ministry reports new cases through the media every six months.

The next update is in the first week of December this year.

With 32 new HIV positives detected between January and July this year, the total number of HIV cases detected since 1993 in the country today stands at 492.

Of the total, 25 non-Bhutanese left for their own countries, one Bhutanese left the country and 93 have died.  Currently, there are 373 living with HIV in the country.

It was also reported that 34 HIV positive people aged between 1 and 15 years  infected through transmission of HIV from the mother to child. Twenty-three are females and 11 males.

Of about 25,000 people tested for HIV last year, 59 have been detected with HIV. In 2011, about 20,000 people were tested for HIV and 45 were detected positive.

The dominant mode of HIV transmission, in 90 percent of cases, was through the sexual route followed by Mother To Child Transmission in 8.2 percent of cases.

Meanwhile, of the total detected, 150 were detected through contact tracing, 98 each were detected through medical screening and voluntary testing, and 47 through antenatal care. Other cases were detected through blood donor screening, survey and construction site screening.

Jurmi Drukpa said that besides sex workers and those injecting for drug use, men having sex with men (MSM), and transgender are more vulnerable to HIV.

Lhaksam in coordination with the Bhutan Media Foundation organised a two-day workshop to sensitise and advocate media personnel about how HIV is associated with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) population in Paro last week.

Lhak-Sam’s executive director, Wangda Dorji said that it has been more than two decades since HIV/AIDS was found in the country with the detection of two people with the HIV virus in 1993.

People still have misconceptions about HIV.

Breaking the silence and addressing misconceptions on HIV, ending the stigma and discrimination related to HIV still are some of the challenges the affected people face.

A programme official with Lhak-Sam said that HIV prevalence among MSM and transgender persons has been increasing within the South Asian Region and could further contribute significantly to new infections.

He said that the social, political and legal environments such as punitive laws, the lack of or presence of social protection and stigma and discrimination affect reaching these communities. “The media has a positive role to play in affecting a country’s social, political and legal environment.”

Besides advocacy and awareness on HIV, the participants were also educated on the usage of media toolkits, dissemination of right to information, ethical media reporting and usage of correct terminologies related to LGBT and HIV, among others.

Dechen Tshomo