Private Diagnostic Centers to have HIV testing

Following an increasing detection gap of incidences of HIV/AIDs in the country, the National HIV/AIDs Commission has made the decision to allow private diagnostic centers in the country to have HIV testing.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the Chief Program Officer at Ministry of Health (MoH), Namgay Tshering, said that decision was made to provide a wider choice to the general public.

“Some people opt to do their HIV test in private settings. Despite free access in the country, it was noted that most Bhutanese prefer to do their HIV testing outside Bhutan,” he said.

He also said that following the estimates of UNAIDS spectrum estimates, 2018, Bhutan must have 1,200 cases of HIV/AIDs as of 2017, which means there is still a detection gap of more than 50%.

“Having HIV testing in private diagnostic centers would help to diversify the HIV test to suit the needs of individual clients, put them on treatment if found positive and also improve the quality of their lives,” he said.

With the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place to guide the private diagnostic centers, Namgay Tshering said that he does not foresee any problem. On the plus side, he said that more cases will be detected at an earlier stage of infection.

He is not worried about the risk of bridging confidentiality. “Maintaining confidentiality is one core ethic of every health worker,” said Namgay Tshering. He added that the confirmed HIV positive results will not be directly delivered to private diagnostic centers and the MoH has a unique identifier code to replace the individual client’s information.

The standard practice as prescribed in the SOP allows private diagnostic centers to do only the screening tests. After the test, the reactive samples will be shipped to the nearest health center for repeat test and further the samples will be confirmed for HIV at the Royal Center for Disease Control.

Therefore the samples moves from one place to another for confirmation and a unique identifier code will be used to protect the confidentiality of the client.

Namgay Tshering said that the cost, quality and standard will be closely monitored by the government. “The cost part is yet to be determined, however, private diagnostic centers will have to use the kits that are registered with Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA),” he said, whereby the cost may vary based on the brands of the kits.

However, it is not mandatory for all the private diagnostic centers to have this service. If private diagnostic centers are willing and wish to have this service, they will have to apply to Essential Medicine and Technology Division, MoH for approval.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu