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Bhutan gets first gene Xpert machine and mobile HTC van services

The first ever gene Xpert machine for HIV viral load testing and mobile HTC van services in the country was launched by the Ministry of Health (MOH) coinciding with the 18th National HIV/AIDS Commission meeting yesterday.

The Gene Xpert will be installed in five major hospitals across the country. The services will be available in Thimphu, Chukha, Sarpang, Samdrp Jongkhar and Mongar Referral hospital.

Speaking at the launch, Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk said the Gene Xpert machine is useful for both HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) patients.

“Earlier we have to send the reading of CD4 count (a CD4 count determines how healthy a person’s immune system is) outside Bhutan which used to take a lot of time, but with the machine here, we can get the results in four hours,” said Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk.

According to the officiating Chief Program Officer of Communicable Disease Division, Namgay Tshering, gene Xpert machine is a part of care facility for HIV viral load testing.

The Gene Xpert machine can also be used for early infant diagnosis for mothers who are HIV positive as well as rapid diagnosis for Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) Tuberculosis.  It was procured at a cost of Nu 3.5mn (US$ 54,000) through the Global Fund.

Along with the gene Xpert machine, two mobile HTC van services that are equipped with mini-lab to undertake onsite HIV/STI testing were also launched.

“The vans will be used to carry out mobile HIV and STIs screening services and will also be used during disease outbreaks and to carry out surveillances at the outbreak sites,” said Namgay Tshering.

According to health ministry, each van was procured at a cost of US$ 38,500, which amounts to Nu 5.16 million for the two vans. The vans were also procured through the Global Fund.

Since the inception of the commission in 2004, there has been no major reforms or reconstitution of the commission. The 18th National HIV/AIDS commission meet saw the reconstitution of the commission members.

“The reconstitution of commission members were considered as the members have remained the same for 13 years despite the term of reference allowing the members to serve a maximum of two terms,” said Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk.

He said that earlier it was an inclusive commission that functioned like a secret government commission, but now it is made exclusive.

As of today, the number of members of the commission has increased from 11 to 15.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu

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