Increase in population due to hydropower project may have had a hand in the spread

Health: Even as Trongsa sees an increasing number of sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases, a case of an absconding HIV positive has left the health community concerned.

Dzongkhag health officer, Gunja Raj Gurung, said the person managed to slip away, by giving the STD campaigners a fake name last year. “The person is still on the loose,” he said.

Since 2012, Trongsa general hospital (TGH) has recorded 347 STI cases, of which seven are HIV positive.

While the hospital saw 101 STD cases in 2012, the numbers increased to 136 in 2013.  Last year, the hospital reported 110 STI cases, including urethral and genital discharge, herpes, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and syphilis.

These cases are detected during STI screening, outpatient department and sensitisation campaigns at labour camps of Mangdechu hydropower project authority (MHPA), institutes and villages.  Some were also detected through voluntary testing and counselling.

“We see at least two STD cases every other day,” a doctor said. “But no one, patients or health officials, remember the person, who gave us a fake identity.”

Since the person cannot be traced, health officials said there was a huge risk of the virus being transmitted.  According to doctors, running away or hiding can be more damaging to the individual, as the infection, without medication, could worsen to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

“One can also live longer and a lead normal life by getting early medication,” a senior doctor said.

Doctors suspect that the infection could have spread through Bhutanese people, since some of the infected were locals. “It might be controversial to say that the expatriate workers carried the infection, but they’ve certainly played a role in spreading,” the senior doctor said.

The hospital attributes the sudden rise in STI cases to increasing population, with the opening of the hydropower project.

Gunja Raj Gurung said the screening policy must be complied strictly in the project areas, as well as entry points, given the detection of leprosy, tuberculosis and malaria cases in the project area.

“Expatriate workers are suspected to have carried malaria and tuberculosis from India,” Gunja Raj Gurung said, adding low turnover in the past screening campaigns indicates poor compliance from the project, because the project has no time for other activities.

However, MHPA joint managing director, Chencho Tshering, said that the project’s medical task force, with the health ministry, has initiated steps to prevent and protect its employees from STI infections.

“Although the project’s first priority is the construction, MHPA however has been programming weekends and public holidays for medical check ups,” Chencho Tshering said, adding that, even at the entry points, the expatriate workers are brought in only when they get past the medical screening.

The project has hired houses in Phuentsholing and Kingarubten in Trongsa to facilitate screening for its employees, and will set up one in Gelephu, if the health ministry cannot set up one.

“We also protect the identity of those living with HIV to ensure an environment free of discrimination or stigmatisation,” Chencho Tshering said

By Tempa Wangdi, Langthel