Bhutan hopes to eliminate Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT) of HIV by 2020 and AIDS by 2030 according to health professionals.
As of December 2016, 515 cases of HIV were reported in the country of which 250 were male and 265 female. Of this around eight percent or 35 cases were Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT).
A total of 250 infected have been enrolled on life-long Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) of which 29 died while on treatment. As of June 2016, 86 death cases were reported. Health officials estimate that 90 percent of the reported cases are attributable to unsafe sex.
“We are already on the verge of eliminating Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT) of HIV,” said Dr Tandin Dorji. “With modern treatment we can absolutely and with certainty of 90 to 95 percent prevent MTCT not only by treatment, but also by following safe delivery and non breast-feeding,” he said.
Fortunately for Bhutan, he said that they have all the means and these are being implemented in the hospital and because of that they have not seen any cases of new MTCT cases. “We should be able to reach the target much before other countries,” he said.
On the 35 cases of children born with HIV+ in the past, Dr Tandin Dorji said that was because there were no medication and delivery methods. “Now with availability of methods, we can deliver the baby by scissoring, with the mother on medicine until delivery and once delivered, the baby is given formula feed for certain period of time,” he said. “If a mother does a normal delivery there is chances of transmission of HIV to the baby. If a child is born with HIV today it means the mother never came to hospital for check up or it is a health case we missed.”
On eliminating AIDS by 2030, Dr Tandin said that people think that HIV and AIDS is same thing, but it is not. “We will never be able to completely stop the transmission of HIV till there is a vaccine to prevent the HIV,” he said explaining that AIDS is the later stage of HIV where the immunity is so low that the infected person gets and dies from secondary infections. Since they have the medicine, no HIV should turn to AIDS and if they take the medicine without fail, there is no way that, it will turn to AIDS, Dr Tandin explained.
“When we say elimination of HIV/AIDS by 2030, it is not that there will be no HIV in the country but it is AIDS we are trying to eliminate because of the WHO target where 90 percent of persons with HIV + should be put on treatment,” he said. “What we are saying is, because of availability of highly active Antiretrovirals (ARV’s) medicine nobody with HIV+ should progress onto AIDS.”
In Bhutan 75 to 80 percent of people with HIV are put on treatment.
According to the health policy, a person detected with HIV should immediately start with the treatment. “If we can get all the 515 people under treatment then there is no way it will turn to AIDS,” he said.
However, he pointed out that there are still a large number of Bhutanese who are not tested and do not know their HIV status. “If a person with HIV is not getting treated then when a person progresses to AIDS it is more dangerous and then only they approach hospital,” he said. “We encourage every individual to get tested and treated if required.”