High acceptance of HIV self-test in Bhutan

HIV self-test Kit (Pic: The New Times)

Ministry of Health has scaled up the use of HIVST kit in 6 priority dzongkhags as of now



Demonstrations carried out by Ministry of Health (MoH) reveals that HIV Self-Testing (HIVST) has high feasibility and acceptance among the key and vulnerable population in Bhutan.

As a result, MoH have scaled up the use of HIVST kit in 6 priority dzongkhags which they further intend to bolster up in a phase-wise manner across the country.

MoH launched the HIVST initiative on 1 December, 2020 to reduce the detection gap in the country and to ensure privacy while giving opportunity to conduct test and detect early.

The HIVST includes a rapid test kit which uses oral swabs to detect the antibody produced in a person.

The programme manager of National HIV or Hepatitis and STIs Control Programme (NACP), Lekey Khandu said, “The demonstration project we have been conducting for last six months has completed and it yielded good results.”

He said expanding the HIVST initiative will depend on the resources as the test kits are expensive while the results from the six districts will also be vital.

“If the positivity case is low and the disease has not reached the remote places then we will opt for the regular test which is much cheaper,” said Lekey Khandu, adding the MoH plans to include the result from the self-test kit in the next six month’s report.

As per MoH’s protocol, when an individual avail the HIV self-test kit, they would be given adequate counselling on how to go about with the test and the procedure.

An agreed time would be given to an individual to report their results to the counsellor and should an individual fail to report their result on the agreed date, the particular counsellor would take the initiative to call that individual.

MoH further adds that they cannot assure that the results given by the client will be 100 percent accurate as some may provide false result due to fear and social stigmatization.

Executive Director of Lhak-Sam Wanda Dorji said that the initiative of HIVST is a good one to detect HIV cases, but for their organization the biggest worry about such initiative is that people would not be true while reporting their test results.

He suggests that proper awareness program should be given on television and various social media platforms about HIV self-test initiative and the procedure.

Wangda Dorji added that the awareness program should stress on the importance of individual giving right and correct information even if the result comes as HIV positive so that it can benefit society at large.

“Even if the result is negative, one should go for post-test counselling to know more about the disease and how one can prevent it in the future,” he said.

As per international norms and human rights, it is the wish of an individual to reveal or keep their result in secrecy from the concern agency. So the officials cannot coerce individuals into revealing the status of their result.

“But the consequences of not sharing their result might have negative impact on the society so these facts need to be oriented during their pre-test counselling,” said Lekey Khandu.

Meanwhile, in the recent six months result there were 40 new HIV cases (21 female and 19 male) detected which is the highest number of cases detected in a period of six months.

Bhutan has recorded 835 HIV cases since its first detection in 1993 of which 433 are male and 402 females.

As per the recent report from MoH on 3 August, today about 628 people are living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country. Out of 628 PLHIV, 608 are on antiretroviral treatment (ART) resulting in 97% treatment coverage among the active cases.

As a part of the national HIV and AIDS response, the Ministry of Health will continue to strive hard to bridge the current case detection gap to achieve sustainable development goals to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.