The numbers may not be alarming, but the worrying thing is records, while negligible, show a consistent increase in HIV/AIDS cases in the country in recent years.
The health ministry declared having detected another 27 new HIV/AIDS cases last week. This recent announcement comes after 22 new HIV/AIDs cases were declared by the health ministry in November last year. The recent detection, therefore, means that around four cases of HIV/AIDS are reported every month.
The total number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country is 452 today and around 597 cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported since the first case was detected in 1993.
While the numbers may not be tad high and small compared with those in some other worldwide where new infections have been counted by hundreds and thousands, it shouldn’t justify the lack of concern both by the public and the government. We must not wait until things go out of our hand and the spread becomes difficult to contain.
Against this backdrop, a positive indication, however, is that a few people living with HIV/AIDS are coming forward and announcing themselves as HIV positive. This is a good development as early diagnosis and treatment can prolong lives even if there is still no guaranteed cure for AIDs. The main challenge, however, is the existence of social and self-stigma that deter people to come forward for timely diagnosis and treatment.
And mention ‘HIV/AIDS’, we think it’s confined to certain vulnerable groups such as sex workers and drug abusers. But going by the occupational group of the new cases, we must remember that we have housewives, farmers, people in the private and businesses, drivers and civil servants. Our intervention now must focus on the people who are most at risk and where they are located. We must act on the problem, sooner the better.
Another challenge is perhaps the society in which we live where members don’t openly discuss and are sort of condemned when we mention the words such as condoms and sexual intercourse. Awareness and education are, therefore, pivotal to ending the HIV epidemic.
Further, another worrying thing is that we are supposed to detect a cumulative of 1,265 HIV cases in the country based on the 2018 UNAIDS estimation for Bhutan; thus showing a current case detection gap of 53 percent. Going by the recent cases, only 37 percent were diagnosed through voluntary testing and medical screening, 22 percent through contact tracing, and four percent through blood donor screening. It’s imperative, therefore, for all of us to work together to curb the problem of HIV/AIDS. Each of us has a responsibility to know our HIV/AIDS status. Knowing one’s status could indubitably prevent HIV infections and deaths within one’s family, community and the nation.