Gasa, only Dzongkhag with zero reported HIV cases

50 people on an average are detected with HIV every year

Earlier this week, the media advocacy training on HIV (Human Immunodeficiency virus) and SOGIE (Social Orientation, Gender, Identity and Expression) revealed that Gasa Dzongkhag has no reported cases of HIV cases as of now.

However, though the dzongkhag itself did not have any reported cases, people of Gasa in other Dzongkhags have been detected with HIV. “People living with HIV have been detected in 19 of 20 districts,” stated a presentation on the situation of HIV in the country.

The low population in Gasa has been attributed to the lack of cases reported in the dzongkhag.

HIV in other countries is a concentrated epidemic but in Bhutan, though the HIV prevalence is low, it is a diffused epidemic. Diffused epidemic means that irrespective of age, gender, social status or race, all are affected by HIV.

According to recent statistics with the Ministry of Health, HIV has been detected across all occupations including housewives to religious bodies to corporate employees and civil servants.

The total number of people living with HIV in the country is 570 of which 294 are male and 276 female. Of the total people living with HIV, housewives top the list of occupational groups followed by farmers, private/business and drivers.

It is estimated that there are over 1,000 to 1,100 Bhutanese living with HIV; however, only 50% of the estimate has been detected in the country. Statistics with the health ministry also reveal that every year, 50 people on an average are detected with HIV every year.

Of the current lot detected, the highest mode of transmission was through sexual route with 528, followed by mother to child with 35 and through drug use and blood transfusion with three each.

The main challenges that the health ministry faces in preventing spread of HIV are high sexual promiscuity, low condom usage, increasing mobility of people including the increased influx of migrant workers into the country and increasing emergence of other sexually transmitted infections including Hepatitis B.

Other reasons include increasing emergence of third gender population, such as men-having-sex-with-men (MSM) and transgender, societal stigma and discrimination, porous border with Indian state of Assam and West Bengal and increased availability of emergency contraceptive pills, undermining the use of condoms.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu