Nima Wangdi 

Bhutan detected 39 more HIV cases in the past six months. Of the total, 23 are male and 16 are female.

The press release from the health ministry stated that 59 percent of the infected are between the ages between 25 and 49, and 33 percent are above 50. The remaining eight percent are below 25 years.

A total of 22 cases were diagnosed through medical screening, eight through voluntary counselling and testing, and six through contact tracing. Two were detected through screening of pregnant mothers attending antenatal care services and one through blood donor screening according to the press release.

The press release stated, of the total, most of them, 28 individuals, contracted the virus through unsafe heterosexual practices.

National HIV, AIDS and STIs Control Programme Manager, Lekey Khandu said the transmission from a blood donor occurred outside the country. “It doesn’t happen in our country as we do thorough screening before the blood is transfused to recipients.”

With 40 cases diagnosed from Jan to June, and 39 cases from July to December, a total of 79 cases were reported in 2022 alone.

Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that this was one of the highest numbers of cases detected in 12 months so far.

Lyonpo also said that the increasing HIV detection indicates that people are taking responsibility to come forward to test their status. The testing is made more accessible through health facilities, community-based HIV self-testing, and outreach services.

“I urge all the people to consider testing for HIV as our Gyenkhu to achieve the national goal of eliminating the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” the minister said.

“Lyonpo added that all expecting parents must undergo two-time testing during pregnancy check-ups to ensure the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, congenital syphilis, and hepatitis B,” Lyonpo said.

The cumulative number of cases reported from 1993 until December 2022 is 874 (456 males and 418 females). About 660 people are living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country.

Lekey Khandu said out of 660 PLHIV, 641 are on antiretroviral treatment (ART) resulting in 97 percent treatment coverage among the living cases. “About 178 of the reported cases died due to AIDS-related complications since the diagnosis of the first case until now.”

He said, despite the low prevalence of HIV in Bhutan, the need to intensify HIV Counseling and Testing is being accorded high priority by the Royal Government to bridge the current case detection gap of 32.7 percent of the estimated 1,300 HIV cases in the country. The case detection gap has reduced from 47.6 percent in 2019 to 32.7 percent in December 2022, resulting in an overall reduction of 14.9 percent in the last four years.

Lekey Khandu said, as part of the national response, the Ministry of Health will continue to strive to bridge the current case detection gap to achieve sustainable development goals to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“The prevention of HIV is the responsibility of all, starting from an individual to the various stakeholders, and people living with HIV. The most viable solution to prevent oneself from being infected is to abstain from unsafe sex, not share injecting drug use needles, be faithful to one’s partner and use a condom correctly and consistently,” he said.