The health ministry’s high-level committee (HLC) has endorsed the technical guidance document for private diagnostic clinics to carry out HIV testing services.

The National HIV/AIDS and STIs Control Programme (NACP) submitted the draft guidance document for private diagnostic clinics in carrying out HIV testing services to the 47th HLC on May 9.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Chief programme officer with the health ministry’s communicable disease division, Namgay Tshering said the guidance document was put up to the HLC for deliberation and endorsement to ensure that private diagnostic clinics have the capacity and competency to carry out the test.

He then said that the National HIV/AIDS Commission has decided to allow private diagnostic clinics to conduct HIV testing services to provide choice to people. “The initiative was not meant to replace the current HIV testing facilities catered through health facilities.”

Despite free HIV testing services at all levels of health facilities which include dedicated HIV testing and counselling services catered through Health Information and Service Centres (HISC) in the country, some Bhutanese visit private clinics in Jaigaon, India for HIV test.

Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Kuengarabten in Trongsa, and Lobesa in Punakha have a HISC each.

Programme officer with NACP, Lekey Khandu, said the programme would institute HIV testing services in private diagnostic centres only after they fulfill all the technical requirements.

He said the Essential Medicines and Technology Division with the Department of Medical Services would review the technical requirements needed to carry out the services in the private diagnostic clinics.

“Once the private diagnostic clinics complete all the requirements and become eligible to start such services then the NACP will closely work with them,” Lekey Khandu said.

In terms of eligibility to carry out HIV testing services, Namgay Tshering said that it would be done in line with the guidance document, which was prepared in line with the provisions of the Bhutan Medical and Health Council Act.

Lekey Khandu said the programme’s approach would be to first orient the private diagnostic clinics thoroughly on the guidance document followed by training of key staff in carrying out the testing and counselling to ensure safety and quality HIV testing services to the people.

Health officials said strict regulation would be put in place to ensure that confidentiality is maintained and the quality of the test is as per the standards prescribed by the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).

Namgay Tshering said the NACP would guide private diagnostic clinics to ensure the quality of the HIV testing services while adhering strictly to the national policy on client’s confidentiality.

There are more than 10 private diagnostic centres in the country. Phuentsholing alone has six private diagnostic centres. Thimphu, Gelephu, and Samdrupjongkhar have two each.

Dechen Tshomo