PLHIV practices high-risk behavior, new health study reveals

The Bhutanese managed to get hold of a classified study that the health ministry (MoH) conducted on 116 People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) above 18 years and above between April to May, 2011.
Sources said that the results of the survey will be made public once the ministry receives funds.
The objective of the research was to study the risk factors that led to HIV infection among PLHIV and to describe the dynamics of HIV transmission among the general population in Bhutan.
Earlier, the study had targeted 137 PLHIV in the same age bracket from different dzongkhags but only the said number (more than 50% were male) consented to take part in the study.
The study shows the link between alcohol abuse both before and after the HIV test and also certain patterns in sex practices among the patients such as inconsistent use of condom and respondents indulging in sex even after testing positive which is high-risk behavior.
High abuse of alcohol was noted both before and after the HIV test.
The study revealed that 83.6% of the male respondents had been using alcohol before testing positive and 57.4% of them continued to consume it even after knowing their status.
Among alcohol consumers, 18 respondents had been regular drinkers before the test but the number reduced to eight after they tested positive; from the 18 respondents, 14 had indulged in commercial and non-commercial sex before test.
From the above eight regular alcoholics, two had maintained commercial and non-commercial sex partners after test.
About six men had been reported abusing drugs; among them, one respondent quit after testing positive.
Once in a while, the majority of the male respondents were found traveling out of their work place both before and after testing positive, and among them only nine men had had sex before testing positive and one of them had sex even after testing positive.
The study found consistent low use of condom in both the occasions.
The majority had bought sex from town and the rest of the respondents had received sex from villages.
Twenty-six men had made travels before undergoing an HIV test and 18 of them had made trips after the test. Among them, seven of the men had sex in India, and only one had sex in Thailand before the HIV test.
Three of the men had used condom consistently.
Now the current scenario of buying sex abroad has declined to one after testing positive.
Similarly, among the females, alcohol consumption was high. Of the 34 women who consumed alcohol, 10 were regular alcoholics before test and after the test eight of them continued to consume alcohol.
One of the female respondents even started abusing drugs after testing positive.
Among 55 female respondents, the number of respondents who had reported of having an occasional, regular, and non-paid sex partner respectively before testing positive had declined from 24 to 10 after test.
The prevalence of sex partner, commercial or non-paid partners was higher among separated or divorced females than currently married.
Most of the women resorted to using condom consistently after test.
Interestingly, the study shows that from the 10 female regular alcoholics, eight of them had indulged in commercial and non-commercial sex before test and seven of them had maintained different types of sex partner even after testing positive.
On the travel pattern front, within the country, 40 of the women had travelled out off their work place once in a while, both before and after test and among them one had sold sex before test, and two others had sold sex after testing positive.
Apart from the women who had sold sex, two additional women respondents engaged in occasional sex before undergoing an HIV test and continued even after testing positive.
Consistent condom use was absent except for one who used condom after test.
On travels outside the country, 12 females had made trips both before and after testing for HIV; most had travelled to India and among them two of the females had reported of selling sex in India both before and after testing positive.
Another interesting factor that the study highlights is the ethnicity, religion, and occupational break-ups.
Overall 38.8% of the respondents were Scharchop, followed by Ngalop with 25%, and then Lhotsampa with 13.8%.
On the religion front, the majority of 87.9% were Buddhist, followed by Hindus and only one Christian respondent.
In regard to occupation, there were respondents from all areas of occupation, not only sex workers.
Most of the respondents were from Thimphu, followed by Chukha, then Samdrup Jongkhar, Samtse and lastly Sarpang.
Reports state that the study was a success and that the course of this study will lead the ministry on future directions on HIV/AIDS program in Bhutan.
Mongal Singh Gurung of the Research and Epidemiology Unit under the Health Ministry said, “The study is very timely for Bhutan and we are hopeful that with the assessment and studies on hand will help us in designing evidence-based interventions.”
Meanwhile, the official number of HIV cases stands at 270 of which 207 are Bhutanese living in the country and the rest are living outside Bhutan.

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