Bhutan has made significant strides in battling sexually transmitted diseases, chiefly AIDS, ever since the first case was detected in the early 1990s.
However, despite all the strident measures and medical and social interventions in place, the number of people getting diagnosed with the disease is rising at an alarming pace. Just recently the ministry of health reportedly detected 40 new HIV cases, 19 male and 21 female, in a span of six months. The report also indicated that women of reproductive age suffer a high disproportionate burden of HIV compared to men.
The total number of cases reported from 1993 until June 2022 is 835 with 433 males and 402 females. And today, 628 people are living with HIV in the country however; unlike in other underdeveloped countries where patients do not have access to medical care, about 608 HIV patients in Bhutan are on antiretroviral treatment (ART) which means 97 percent treatment coverage among the active cases.
In a bid to detect the disease early and provide timely medical intervention, the ministry of health has also started distributing self-testing kits so that those fearing stigmatization in health centers or those wishing not to reveal their HIV status can do so in the confines of their homes while also being able to know their status.
This is an important step to make people aware of their HIV status because diagnosing it early is the best bet against the disease which, till date, has no proven scientific cure. However, timely medication and treatment has proven to be the most effective way in combating this malady which the MoH aspires to completely wipe it off by 2030.
And fortunately, much has changed since the early days of HIV/AIDS. Today, thanks to advances in medical science and technology, it is possible to live a healthy and a fuller life with a disease that used to equate to a death sentence just a few decades ago.
Organizations like the Lhak-sam have also become the forerunners in the fight against this dreaded disease. Despite all the social stigmas and reproach attached with HIV/AIDS Bhutanese, especially the founders of Lhak-sam, have been brave enough to come out in public and declare their HIV status. This has not only made people aware of the disease but has also made citizens realize that with timely intervention this disease can also be battled to a certain extent.
Nonetheless, the biggest support and respite should come from the general citizenry—that we need to spread awareness that HIV/AIDS is not a scourge but a disease like any other which can be tackled if timely interventions are provided.
We need to be more open and stop stigmatizing individuals who are infected because our apathy and admonishment will only fuel negativity rather than helping find a humane cure.