Testing and counselling facilities will be available until December 6 at the Clock Tower Square

Health: At least 388 people came forward to test their Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) status on World AIDS Day yesterday in Thimphu.

Blood testing and counselling centres were set up at the Clock Tower Square and near the main branch of the Bank of Bhutan office for people to test their HIV status.

Facilities will be made available for volunteers to test and receive counselling anytime until December 6 at the Clock Tower Square, a service that is offered towards fulfilling the global theme of  ‘Getting to Zero’, which is zero new infection, zero death and zero discrimination.

As Lhak-Sam, a network of people living with HIV celebrated its fifth anniversary, executive director Wangda Dorji urged people to come forward for testing, not only for themselves but also for their spouses and unborn child.

He said, although only 460 people are detected as having HIV infection since 1993, UNAIDS estimates a total of 1,100 infections.

Citing his own example, he said that had he known his HIV status before getting married, his wife could never have been infected.

“If you do not test now, you might infect another five in a year, that five will infect another 25 and it will keep multiplying,” he said adding that then Bhutan would not be able to bridge the detection gap of about 59 percent.

That would mean Bhutan failing to fulfill the commitment of ending AIDS epidemic by 2025.

In the last five months, 28 new HIV positives were detected in 11 females and 17 males including a minor.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji in his keynote address yesterday said HIV prevention, treatment and care services have advanced with easy access to HIV testing and continuum of care.

“I urge everyone to take advantage of the free HIV prevention, testing and counseling and treatment services available in our country for a safer life ahead,” he said.

Reading out the UN Secretary General’s World AIDS Day message, UNDP Resident Representative Christina Carlos said, world leaders have unanimously committed to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September. This commitment reflects the power of solidarity to forge, from a destructive disease, one of the most inclusive movements in modern history.

“We need to provide adolescent girls and young women with access to education and real options to protect themselves from HIV,” she said. “I look forward to the 2016 High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on AIDS as a critical chance for the world to commit to Fast-Track the end of AIDS.”

Nirmala Pokhrel