Two women went public with their HIV positive status yesterday during an event that was held to observe the World AIDS day at the Bhutan Youth Development Fund’s (YDF) multipurpose hall in Thmphu.

There are now 10 people including four women who have gone public with their HIV status.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Princess Euphelma Choden Wangchuck attended the event.

Tashi Pelzom, 35, a health worker from Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar was detected HIV positive in 2004. But she started antiretroviral treatment (ART) only in 2011. “ART was not available then.”

Her husband died a few years ago. Her 13-year-old daughter is not infected. “I decided to go public with my status so that people can know about the infection and the importance of testing and knowing one’s HIV status.” She said many are afraid to get tested because they fear that they might be HIV positive. “But they don’t understand that if they are detected early, they can start their treatment early.”

Lhosem Zangmo, 34, from Shumar, Pemagatshel contacted the infection from her husband, Khotsa. He went public with his HIV status in Decmeber 2014. The mother of three and a housewife was detected HIV positive in 2008. “After I knew about my HIV status, I was scared that I will die soon and couldn’t eat for a month. But counselling and medications helped me stay strong.” Her children are not infected.

She said her husband encouraged her to go public with her status so that people are encouraged to get tested, which would help prevent transmission.

Lhak-sam’s executive director Wangda Dorji said the two volunteered to go public not for themselves but to create awareness and educate people on the infection. A person who doesn’t know he/she has HIV could infect more. “If you do not test now, you might infect another five in a year, that five will infect another 25 and it will keep multiplying.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk urged everyone to come forward and know their HIV status so that further transmission of the disease could be prevented.

About 76 people came forward to test their HIV status at the blood testing and counseling camp yesterday. Health ministry organised a similar camp in Phuentsholing.

Dechen Tshomo