The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest disruption the world over. Some of the most pressing problems facing humanity today have understandably taken a backseat so. But they are still major problems that we must tackle with serious thoughts and actions.
Climate change is one, which will only grow, and we will have to face the challenges with not just new knowledge, but also with renewed energy. But there is also the growing problem of HIV/AIDS.
According to the latest reports, in the last six months, Bhutan had over 30 HIV positive cases. We know fairly enough about HIV/AIDS and the modes of transmission.
In Bhutan, the principal mode of transmission has been unprotected sex.
Since the detection of the first HIV positive case in the country in 1993, the health ministry has so far diagnosed 773 HIV cases. And, from then on, our approach to tackling the disease has been awareness and education.
It appears that we have a long way to go. If awareness and education are not working, the problem may not be in the approaches themselves. Could it be that we aren’t doing enough? Are we not reaching out to the right target groups?
These are important questions. But then, there must also be answers.
A health official said that while efforts were being made to bridge the detection gap, the progress has been very slow—with 599 undetected cases last year, the detection gap stood at 43 percent.
UNAIDS estimates that Bhutan could have around 1,300 positive cases. We could have even more than that, why not. The possibility is very high.
The good news is that the health ministry is launching HIV self-testing (HIVST) initiative in six priority dzongkhags of Thimphu, Paro, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, and Samtse.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the initiative would help many of those unreached key and vulnerable populations with greater access to HIV testing services. This must be made convenient to the people. More important, our testing system should be robust and efficient.
We have testing services in all health care facilities in the country, including private clinics. This is a good start but, surely, we can do more to reduce the number of positive cases.
What we also know is that close to 70 percent of HIV cases in Bhutan are among the economically productive age groups—25 to 49. This could have an adverse impact on the health and economy of the country in the long run.
Safe sex and condom use must be promoted. Perhaps more important is to destroy the stigma.
Fighting HIV/AIDS needs renewed and sustained focus.