As we celebrate the World AIDS Day tomorrow, it’s also time to look back how far we have fared in our fight against HIV/AIDS since the first case was detected in 1993.
There is no denying that the number has augmented today and a total of 667 HIV positive cases (328 female) have been diagnosed until November this year, with the majority (70%) in the age group between 25 and 49 years.
The recent figure revealed by the health ministry shows 24 new HIV positive cases, including 15 male detected from June to November this year, thus taking the diagnosed cases so far this year to 60.
However, the thing that is worrying is that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg. There is still a case detection gap of 45% as of November 2019, considering an average case detection of 55 cases for last five years. This only means that only 55% of the estimated 1,265 people living with HIV in Bhutan know their HIV status and the remaining 569 PLHIVs are still unaware of their HIV status.
While Bhutan can claim to have a ‘low and diffused HIV epidemic’ going by the number of cases diagnosed so far, what we are forgetting is that we are vulnerable to experience ‘concentrated epidemic’ too as 45% of PLHIVs are still yet to be diagnosed.
Another worry, meanwhile, is that like many other countries in the region, the majority (70%) of the reported HIV cases in Bhutan is between the ages of 25-49 years, 15% are between 15-24 years, and the remaining 9% above 50 years. This means that HIV in Bhutan has primarily affected the most economically productive age group and this is bad for the economy.
The celebration of the World AIDS Day with the national theme “Engaging communities to bridge the case detection gap” in Samtse is, therefore, timely as it engages a powerful and an influential institution like the community. It can definitely play a big role in helping lower the HIV/AIDS infection rate in the country.
Further, it’s heartening that appropriate interventions are being explored by the health ministry through innovative HIV testing methods like community lead and self-testing, and scaling up access to HIV testing to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
However, one humungous challenge for now seems to be the social and self-stigma that come with HIV/AIDS. It is sad that when it comes to the discussion of HIV/AIDS in the society, there is still a stigma to it or it’s still being seen as a taboo.
Every one, therefore, has not only the right to know their HIV status, but also a shared responsibility irrespective of their HIV status in the prevention of HIV. Concerted effort in minimizing the stigma and discrimination at all levels is pivotal to people detected early to live longer through healthily living style and medication. We must all realize that the threat is far from over and work together collectively.