3 HIV cases died during the lockdown
Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) is a combination of medicines to treat Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection. ART does not cure HIV, but helps to make it a manageable chronic condition, and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.
However, some people living with HIV experienced nausea, vomiting, dizziness, feeling restless, rash all over the body, insomnia and emotional outburst over no reasons during the initial period of ART. The pattern of medication initially contained two doses a day with three different tablets (in each dose). A few years ago the dosage changed to one dose a day with two different tablets. The side effect remained with the change in dosage, a HIV positive person said.
But things changed when the pattern was changed again to one dose a day with just one tablet. It was found the latest pattern of medication is effective and has no side effects.
A HIV positive person, Wangda Dorji, 47, said that he was the 68th HIV positive person in the country, and he started the ART medication in 2006, as his immunity was very low. He said that he was likely to be infected with the virus 6 to 7 years before his detection in 2006.
He said, “I started my medication in 2006, and for almost 8 years, I have taken three tablets twice a day. After that with a change in pattern of medication, I had two tablets once a day. While on medication, I have come across numerous side effects, vomiting, nausea and feelings restless. The medication has also led to day dreaming, hallucination and getting emotional with no reason.”
He said that his wife is also HIV positive and having to take the same medication was challenging for him as his wife suffered severely from the side effects. If they did not sleep right after taking the medicine then they were unable to sleep the whole night, he added.
However, now with new pattern of medication, just one tablet a day has made their living much more comfortable, he added.
The new pattern of dose now allows then to sleep or wake up anytime they want.
“Since me and my wife have taken the medication seriously, we are living well like any other normal people. There were a few friends of mine who have lost their lives, as they did not take the medication seriously. They did not feel the need of medication, with the fact that they would die one day, not realizing they would leave that soon,” he added.
A 33-year-old HIV positive woman, Tshering Choden, said that she was on ART medication since 2012, taking three tablets at once. “The medication did not suit me, whereby I had rashes all over my body with intense fever. After one week, doctors recommended me with different medication but that did not help either. However, I had to continue as I had no other option,” she said.
She said that she had a tough time in tackling the side effects, and had it not been a support from her husband and family, she would not have overcome the challenges. The past few years were a nightmare to her, as she has had to face social stigma also.
She said that she is comfortable and happy with the new medicine dosage.
“It has been five months that I am living a happy life without any fear, unlike before, where sleeping would be difficult and I would be feeling very emotional towards the evening, which was sometimes intense,” she said.
She has four children she cares for and they are all HIV negative.
Many HIV positive people said they are responding well to the new pattern of ART. They said they would feel even better if there is support from the general public.
Three HIV positive people died during lockdown period.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that it takes 12 to 15 years for HIV virus to destroy the immune system of a person. However, if a person is alcoholic or a drug dependent or the immune system is very weak then it may take lesser time to destroy the immune system leading to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The virus, if not treated on time, will lead to other health complications, like kidney and heart problems and other cancerous diseases. Therefore, getting tested at the earliest is the best.
As per the joint United Nation Program on HIV’s, 1,300 are estimated to be living with the HIV in Bhutan but the current updated figure states only 741 people are living with HIV in the country. This means that approximately 600 are living with HIV, but they do not know their HIV status.
People coming forward for voluntary counseling and testing for HIV is very low, with 80,000 in 2019 out of 740, 000 population. Even after 27 years, there is a case detection gap.