National HIV/AIDS Commission has decided to allow private diagnostic centres to conduct HIV testing service.

Chief programme officer with the health ministry’s communicable disease division, Namgay Tshering, said the initiative was not meant to replace the current HIV testing facilities catered through health facilities.

“The decision for allowing the private diagnostic centres to undertake HIV test is to provide choice to our people,” he said. “Strict regulation will be put in place to ensure that confidentiality is maintained and the quality of the test is as per the standard prescribed by the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).”

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said the private diagnostic centres should ensure patient’s confidentiality and report to the health ministry regarding the test every month.

Despite free HIV testing services at all levels of health facilities which includes dedicated HIV testing and counselling services catered through Health Information and Service Centres (HISC) in the country, Dr Ugen Dophu said some Bhutanese visits private clinics in Jaigaon, India for HIV test. “Maybe because they are scared or feel shy to come to avail of the test at the centres in the country.”

Some of them might have tested positive, he added. “The private clinics in Jaigaon share the reports of Bhutanese people who come to test HIV in their clinics, but the problem is that it is difficult to track them because they don’t give the correct or proper address.”

Dr Ugen Dophu said people do not understand that if they give the proper address and their correct mobile numbers then the ministry can easily track them and give them good treatment while maintaining the confidentiality.

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

The Technical Guidance document, which has been developed, will be soon put up to the high-level committee at the health ministry for deliberation and endorsement to ensure that private diagnostic clinics have the capacity and competency to carry out the test, Namgay Tshering said.

The private diagnostic centres have to officially apply to the ministry to include HIV testing in their services.

Drug Regulatory Authority, Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BMHC), RCDC, Essential Medicine and Technology Division (EMTD), and legal unit of health ministry are the key stakeholders that will be involved in the scrutiny of the application.

He said that in principle, the service was expected to be available by the end of 2017. However, the ministry has not received any application from the private diagnostic clinics. “Officials with the National HIV/AIDS and STIs Control Programme had two rounds of consultative meetings with the private diagnostic clinics to draft the guidance document.”

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.

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 provision of the BMHC Act.

Namgay Tshering said that monitoring would take place at different stages for different parameters. For instance, quality check of test will be carried out by the RCDC because private diagnostic centres need to undergo external and internal quality assurance check.

BMHC will monitor the service providers’ compliance with standard practice, while EMTC will monitor and assess their compliance with the minimum standard requirement.

Namgay Tshering said the National HIV/AIDS & STIs Control Programme would guide the private diagnostic clinics to ensure the quality of the HIV testing services while adhering strictly to the national policy on client’s confidentiality.

Dechen Tshomo