The National HIV, AIDS and STIs Control Program, Ministry of Health has detected 27 new HIV cases (15 males and 12 females) between November, 2017 to June 2018 according to a release.
Among the new cases, 78% are between the ages of 20-49 and 22% above 50 years. Thirty percent of the new cases are amongst the housewives followed by 26% farmers, 19% private/business persons, 7% drivers and 4% Civil servants. Thirty-Seven percent each was diagnosed through voluntary testing and medical screening while 22% through contact tracing and 4% from the blood donor screening.
In terms of route of transmission, 100% of them have reported that they have acquired the infection through unprotected heterosexual route. All the 27 new cases are linked to care and treatment at JDWNRH, Thimphu.
According to the available information with the National HIV, AIDS and STIs Control Program suggest that young age sexuality, multiple sexual practices, low-risk perception, sex under the influence of alcohol; increased mobility and low condom use are some of the key factors that contribute to acquisition and transmission of HIV in Bhutan.
The Ministry of Health said that it is constantly educating the public and reaching out to the most at-risk and vulnerable populations with the comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention services. “Every time someone gets tested for HIV, we are one step closer to ending the AIDS epidemic. Learning your HIV status opens the door to powerful HIV prevention and treatment options that could save your life or the life of someone you love.” Said Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, Health Minister. Lyonpo also said, “If more Bhutanese were tested as recommended, we could prevent hundreds of needless HIV infections and deaths”.
The Director, Department of Public Health, Dr Karma Lhazeen said: “Education, awareness, prevention, and treatment are the key to ending HIV epidemic, but the existence of social and self-stigma deters timely diagnosis and treatment”.
She said “Based on the 2018 UNAIDS estimation for Bhutan we are supposed to detect a cumulative of 1265 HIV cases in the country, we need to move on war footing pace to bridge the current case detection gap of 53%”.
She added, “We can only end HIV/AIDS if we address stigma and ensure young people are central to the response.”
The cumulative number of cases reported from 1993 until June 2018 is 597 (309 male and 288 female). In terms of route of transmission 93% have acquired HIV infection through the heterosexual, 6% mother to child transmission (MTCT) and 1 % through injecting drugs and blood transfusion (outside the country) respectively.
In terms of diagnosis, 29% is through contact tracing, 22% each by medical screening and Voluntary Counselling Testing (VCT), 9% Antenatal Care (ANC), while 6%through blood donation screenings and 11% from mobile screening.
At present, there are 452 people living with HIV virus in the country and among them, 422 (93%) are on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and remaining 6.6% are defaulters and non-compliant cases.
Some of the new initiatives towards prevention of HIV and AIDS in the country are introduction of mobile HIV testing and counselling services, installing 55 condom vending machines in 13 priority districts to promote condom use.
Rolling out of treat all policy to ensure all those diagnosed with HIV on ART treatment and introducing the viral load services to monitor the treatment efficacy.
The ministry said that the prevention of HIV is the individual responsibility all across the society. HIV can transmit from person to person only if infected body fluids such as (Blood, semen, vaginal or anal secretions and breast milk).
The four main ways where these fluids can come in contact with each other are having unprotected sex, Transfusion of HIV infected blood or blood products, sharing of HIV infected needles, syringes, blades, piercing instruments and HIV infected pregnant mother to her child.
The ministry said that the simple ways to prevent HIV and AIDS is to abstain from sex, be faithful to one’s partner, use a condom correctly and consistently and do not use drugs.