Welcome to the Lhak-Sam

Chapter Two: Positive support
Part II: I thought I chose the wrong profession!

VCT Centres: I thought I chose the wrong profession!

In April 1993 a couple in their twenties came to the Public Health Laboratory with complaint of STI. At that time, no consent was required and no counselling was offered to patients for conducting sensitive tests. The husband was tested positive for both STI and HIV. Later, the wife too was advised to go for the test. The husband died of cerebral malaria a year after the detection.

“Although I was not involved in this case, I thought people who received life threatening test result news should be properly counselled. I started studying literature developed by WHO and other such agencies and on my own started counselling,” says Ngawang Choida, Bhutan’s first VCT Counsellor.

It was early 1990s and Ngawang was a lab technician at the Public Health Laboratory. The norm at that time was that the technician who collected the sample was responsible for handling the case as well. Recognising his initiative and interest, the Ministry of Health formally made Ngawang the first VCT counsellor in 1996.

He reminisces about his interest in counselling, “I used to take personal interest in my patients and always treated them as my family members so that they were comfortable with me.”

There was no treatment available in the 90s.

Recalling the case of a 26 year old man, who was diagnosed HIV positive, Ngawang says, “I had to do a lot of probing and questioning to find out his risky behaviour before persuading him to go for HIV testing. He was tested positive. When he was informed about his HIV positive status, he could not believe his ears. He went blank.”

“In the 90s, people were not familiar with HIV virus, its dynamics and difference between HIV infection and AIDS. What they knew was that AIDS was a deadly disease. Television and radio used to advertise the whole day… ‘AIDS is a killer or AIDS is a passport to death’. There was no information dissemination on difference in HIV and AIDS.”

“I gave him time to soak in the news and then encouraged him to talk. He started crying. He thought he was going to die. I was in a dilemma. I thought I had chosen the wrong profession. I was giving people the shocking information but I had no remedy and can offer no support to them. I had become a demon, giving death sentence to people.”

Till 2004 there were no guidelines for treatment of HIV, in Bhutan. The turning point came that year when a Royal Decree was issued that mandated treatment and medication for all those living with HIV. The Royal Decree ensured equal rights to HIV positive persons and made tackling of the infection a collective responsibility of all Bhutanese citizens.

The situation has improved manifold since 2004. Awareness has increased, due to which people with risk behaviour volunteer for testing. Testing facilities are available even at the district level.

Today in 2012 Bhutan also has four Health Information Service Centres, which provide information, counselling, testing and treatment facilities for HIV and STI. While earlier, due to lack of awareness these centres had poor turnouts, the year 2010 saw 2,362 clients registering at the centre.

Chapter 2 stories
Practice what you preach - Lhak-Sam - Network of People Living with HIV
Chapter 1 stories
The joke .. | Her past made .. | Wish there .. | For people I .. | Ignorance is bliss | Positive makes.. | The jail rock | Do negative pe..
Chapter 3