The international theme for observing this year’s World AIDS Day is “getting to zero”. It is an ambitious one- achieving zero new infection, zero death from HIV/AIDS and zero discrimination will be an uphill task. But the message is clear. We have to strive for that as a member of the global community.

At home, the national theme sounds more achievable. It is aimed at “seeking everyone’s shared responsibility to end AIDS epidemic by 2025.” Here too, the challenges are aplenty. Since a drive to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS began decades ago, we are seeing an increasing trend in annual detection averaging 35 new cases every year. For a small country like us, it is a concerning rate.

A total of 460 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The number could be even more because the UNAIDS estimates Bhutan to have at least more than a thousand. Bhutan still has a detection gap of about 59 percent.

If there is a hope in achieving the target, it is the way we are dealing with HIV now. Not long ago, not many would openly talk about HIV/AIDS forget coming out in the open. It was a taboo. We are fairly known to be an open society, but when it came to discussing AIDS, we were almost completely closed. The misinformation that AIDS was a killer disease and was related to sexual behaviour didn’t help.  People affected with the viruses literally shunned themselves out.

This has changed a lot and changed for the better. If openness aimed at enhancing awareness is the most effective strategy in dealing with the HIV problem, we are right on the track.

Yesterday, as we observed the Day, it was encouraging to see the crowd at the Clock Tower Square openly talk about the disease. There was no hesitation and the crowd was taking it no different from a blood donation drive. When we talk about discussing HIV/AIDS in the open we are talking about creating a real awareness. We are talking about educating the general public to a level where they can avoid unnecessary risks.

If the skits at the Square enthralled the crowd, it was packed with awareness messages. To cap them all, there were the people who have been affected taking the lead in creating awareness. The most important message is that it can be prevented and it is not a killer disease.

Those who came in the open talking about their experience was the best way of letting people know more about AIDS. They have gone through the pains and the hardship. Yesterday, they were relishing in their decision to come in the open and help people know about the disease.

Given our small number, we could be one of the few countries that could actually get to the zero mark. A majority of the infected Bhutanese appears to be people who could have avoided it. Most of us can avoid it and help others avoid it if we work together.

It is important to know AIDS could be prevented, treated, if detected early and there are worse diseases than HIV/AIDS. The awareness should spread to save a small population.