More than a thousand people from the 15 gewogs of Samtse attended a high-level advocacy programme at the dzongkhag’s public ground yesterday.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, who is undertaking the advocacy tour to Samtse and Chukha from March 20-29, expressed concerns about the increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases despite awareness campaigns being carried out.

“Some spread it because they do not know they have HIV,” Her Majesty said, adding that there are also some people who spread HIV despite being aware that they have the disease.

Today, there are 515 HIV positive cases in the country, which is a cause of major concern, Her Majesty said.

“We need to put in extra effort and work more,” Her Majesty said. “We have to join hands to work together against HIV.”

Her Majesty pointed out that it is not only the government’s responsibility to stop HIV/AIDS but everyone’s.

Her Majesty encouraged the people to undergo tests and pointed out that there are treatment facilities in all hospitals in the country to help HIV/AIDS patients.

A Lhak-Sam member, Tshering Choden, who is HIV positive, also addressed those gathered about the disease.

She encouraged voluntary testing. “People should not shy away,” Tshering Choden said, adding that it would only save lives.

Tshering Choden, who tested positive a decade ago, said she has four healthy children today. Despite the stigma she and her family faced after publicly announcing their status, Tshering Choden said she is doing well today.

Currently, there are 171 HIV patients in Lhak-Sam, of which 22 are children.

Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck also spoke about the increasing number of suicides in the country. Based on police records, more than 70 suicide cases are reported in the country annually.

“Most cases reported are youth related,” Her Majesty said, pointing out that parents have a responsibility to understand their growing children, as they are young and vulnerable.

Health officials also raised awareness on non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases during the programme.

Although no case of malaria has been reported from Samtse for the past few years, people were advised not to be complacent as there were other diseases caused by  mosquito bites such as dengue.

RENEW’s director for its outreach programme, Dr Meenakshi Rai, spoke about the organisation’s role and domestic violence. She explained that domestic violence is not limited to only physical abuse. Emotional, sexual, and other kinds of abuse related to a family’s economic status are equally serious and needs to be curbed, she said.

“There are laws to deal with these abuses,” Dr Meenakshi Rai said. She encouraged women to report incidents to the police, village tshogpas, the local government, the National Commission for Women and Children, and RENEW.

Dr Meenakshi Rai also clarified that RENEW does not limit its support to only women.

Villagers who attended the advocacy programme welcomed the effort.

Padam Prasad Sharma, 63, from Tendu, said that awareness about HIV/AIDS had been raised. He said that he had not been aware that an HIV/AIDS infected mother could still have healthy and HIV/AIDS-free children. He added that he is now aware how important the public’s role is in preventing the disease from spreading.

Tambar Bahadur Biswa, 73, from Samtse gewog, said that he would be more mindful of what he eats and how children are treated by elders, he said.

Sabitra Rai, 35, who is married and has three children, said that she would not tolerate abuse from her husband. “Although fights happen between husband and wife, it should not cross certain boundaries,” she said.

Following the advocacy programme’s conclusion, Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck visited the Samtse hospital and interacted with patients.

Her Majesty will visit Samtse Higher Secondary School today.

During the advocacy programme, Her Majesty will also visit the Samtse College of Education. Her Majesty will continue the advocacy programme in Phuentsholing after Samtse.

The tour is a continuation of Her Majesty’s advocacy efforts to promote awareness on priority public health and social issues.

Rajesh Rai | Samtse