Following a recommendation in the 17th National HIV/AIDS Commission (NHAC) meeting, the commission has been reconstituted to encourage diverse representation of the members.

The government endorsed the proposal during the 133rd session of the Lhengye Zhungtshog in June.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk inaugurated the reconstituted NHAC at Le Meridian in Thimphu yesterday.

Chief programme officer with the health ministry’s Communicable Disease Division, Namgay Tshering, said that no major reconstitution has happened except for the change in a few members based on the decision of the chairperson in the last 13 years.

He said that the reconstitution is aimed at addressing the issues related to HIV/AIDS in the country and to showcase the strong commitment of the government towards addressing the issues of HIV/AIDS.

The commission was constituted in 2004 following the resolution of the 220th session of the Lhengye Zhungtsog with 18 members under the chairmanship of Prime Minister.

Later, in 2006, membership was reduced to 11 and chairmanship was handed over to health minister.

The reconstituted commission now has 15 core members and a member secretary.

The commission members are from the education, labour and human resources, home and cultural affairs, and health ministries, armed forces, Thimphu and Phuentsholing thromde, Dratshang Lhentshog, Lhak-Sam, civil society organisations, and private agencies.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that since its inception, 17 rounds of meetings were held and the outcomes were very significant in re-shaping the national strategies towards combating the social menace of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Coinciding with the commission meeting, the National AIDS Control Programme launched mobile HTC (HIV testing and counseling) service and GeneXpert machine as part of its innovative approaches in responding towards the prevention of HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

GeneXpert machine is a POC (point-of-care) facility for HIV viral load testing, early infant diagnosis of HIV for infants born to HIV positive mothers and rapid diagnosis of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

The machines have been installed in five major hospitals in the country and the services will be available in the hospitals in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Mongar, and Samdrupjongkhar. A GeneXpert machine costs USD 54,000.

Two vans equipped with mini-labs to undertake onsite HIV/STI testing have been procured at USD 77,000 to pilot the mobile HTC service in the country.

Namgay Tshering said, “Most people don’t turn up to health centres for HIV screening. Based on this assessment the health ministry is taking forward this intervention to affected population group.”

The vans will be used also during the disease outbreaks to carry out surveillance at the outbreak sites.

The machines and the vans were procured through Global Fund Support.

The commission meeting highlighted the follow-up actions on the recommendations of the last meeting, updating the members on the HIV epidemic in Bhutan and its challenges, new proposals for policy directives to enhance effective programmatic intervention and management.

Dechen Tshomo