More than 50 percent of the Thimphu City residents tested positive for H. pylori and about 55 percent in the other districts as of January 2022.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a bacterium causing chronic gastric infection and can even go on to cause gastric cancer in certain cases.
Many people often mistake chronic H. pylori symptoms as being that of ulcer, gas or even diet like chillies but the root cause of chronic discomfort could well be H. pylori.
If any individual aged 40 to 75 years old test positive, they are advised for endoscopy service to check for stomach cancer. As of now more than 25,000 endoscopies has been done across the country and they have detected more than 80 cancers.
Some cancers are at an early stage which is easier to treat and survival is the same as normal people.
The Ministry of Health wants to ensure that no person loses their lives to gastric, cervical and breast cancers that are easily preventable, detectable and curable.
The health ministry focuses on enhancing a robust screening programme for these cancers which is carried out based on the screening guideline developed by the Technical Working Group for the Health Flagship Project.
The flagship aims to screen all population aged 18-75 years for H. pylori; screen all women aged 25- 65 for cervical cancer, and screen all women aged 40-65 for breast cancer.
Meanwhile, the MoH informed the public that the mass H. pylori screening program for the residents of Thimphu Thromde is still underway and the Ministry will continue to provide the screening services as till 20th July 2022.
MoH provides an eradication therapy called Triple Therapy for 14 days for those who test positive. If this treatment does not work, they will be on quadruple therapy for 14 days. Quadruple therapy is the second line drug for H. pylori positive if the triple therapy drug cannot eradicate the infection.
According to the Bhutan Health Journal 2021 report, a study was conducted on a randomized 380 medical records of the patients who underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and Rapid Urea Test for symptomatic dyspepsia and peptic ulcer.
The study found that the prevalence of H. pylori infection was very high (76.6%). The mean age of the infection was 42 with a range from 15 to 84 years. The highest prevalence of infection was observed in the age group 20-29 years (82.7%) and lowest in the oldest age group 70-84 years (66.7%).
The analysis showed no significant difference in infection amongst age groups, gender, and endoscopic findings to the positive results at 5 percent significant level except for monthly prevalence. Gastritis was the commonest endoscopy finding and gastro-duodenitis had the highest positivity rate.
The prevalence of infection was relatively high compared with previous studies. Young and middle-aged adults had a high prevalence and this group needs to be given priority for screening and eradication treatment considering limited resources to prevent associated gastric cancer in Bhutan, according to the Bhutan Health Journal.