Welcome to the Lhak-Sam

Chapter Three: Positive response
Part I: Joint UN response to HIV in Bhutan



“Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large.” MK Gandhi

When Mahatma Gandhi said these lines he had not thought that so many would be inspired by his words. Now, there are philanthropists and agencies rendering selfless services to the needy. These services are steadily growing and becoming better improving many lives around the world. The brave hearts living with their positive status and those supporting them—both get the backing of these national and international agencies. The efforts of the affected would see its outcomes in a more efficient and effective manner with the technical and financial backing of these philanthropists and organisations.

Joint UN response to HIV in Bhutan

The UNAIDS and its co-sponsors of UNAIDS support the national response to HIV/AIDS in Bhutan in different ways.

UNAIDS provided financial and technical support to nurture and capacitate network of people living with HIV in Bhutan.

Besides, UNAIDS facilitated several research and training programmes in the country. This includes ‘Development of Epidemiologic Profile 2010’, training on data management’, ‘training on ART, ‘training of Lhak-Sam on advocacy’, PAF support to Lhak-Sam, support to the review of NACP, development and costing of the National Strategic Plan and Operational Plan, development of Global Fund proposal- round 9 and many more such activities.

UNICEF extends technical support to NACP, Ministry of Health, in the area of PMTCT and VCT. The agency trained 66 health care providers on PMTCT and VCT functioning in 2009. A gynaecologist was sent to Bangkok for PMTCT training course, whereas two laboratory staff were trained on the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines for Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) of HIV infection in 2010.

WHO provides support to NACP for dissemination of information on global initiatives, in strategic planning for health sector response and for building capacities to enable their adaptation into strategic and operational plans. WHO also supports capacity building for adaptation of WHO recommended tools for agreed interventions. In 2010, two staff members from Ministry of Health were sent to Indonesia for training in strategic planning for health sector response to HIV/AIDS and two medical officers were trained in Sri Lanka on training of trainers on HIV counselling. WHO also supported training of health staff in CD4 tests.

“Efforts to increase the general awareness about HIV infection have been made in Bhutan over the years, notably through multidisciplinary teams at the Dzongkhag (district) level. Although most of the time the efforts happen in bursts, it has been possible to sustain the general population’s attention on a continued basis. The issue is integrated in school education, and media also gets involved in voluntary campaigning from time to time” says Claire Van Der Vaeren, UN Resident Coordinator in Bhutan.

With the support of UNFPA's Goodwill Ambassador, Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, an annual campaign is also undertaken nationwide on World AIDS Day. The issue has been integrated into government’s approach to public health as well.

“With rising awareness levels, people have started feeling compassion for those living with HIV. Yet stigma persists and a lot needs to be done. Lhak-Sam has made a beginning in this regard,” says Claire.

When Lhak-Sam members revealed their status in 2011 they were also apprehensive whether people would accept them or not, but the response they received was positive. Now other positive people are reaching out to them. The change is happening very quietly and evidence to it is the increasing number of reported cases. Three years ago, Bhutan had 168 reported cases of HIV and the number went up to 270 in 2010.

“In Bhutan, 90 per cent of the HIV infection is mainly due to unsafe heterosexual behaviour whereas 0.8 per cent is mother to child transmission. The critical high risk population that are yet to be reached is migrant workers, men who have sex with men and sex workers. There is no or limited advocacy targeted towards them, since it is difficult to pin-point these sections of population. Injecting Drug Users are present in Bhutan but not rampant,” Claire explains.

To cover all the vulnerable population groups, knowledge and awareness needs to be constantly reaffirmed as there are lot of misconceptions besides maintaining the advocacy chain.

With this premise, UNFPA and GFTFM are supporting Government of Bhutan in the development and implementation of Life Skills Education (LSE) programme in schools through training of in-service teachers.

“So far, a critical mass of teachers has been trained, covering schools in 15 districts. By 2013 all teachers would be trained on LSE in Bhutan and would have the knowledge of HIV—the infection and its prevention,” says Yeshey Dorji, the Assistant Resident Representative, UNFPA.

Further, since 2011, UNFPA started working with Bhutan's Nun Foundation and is now involved in creating awareness and training instructors on LSE. The training is the first to educate the nuns on how to save and protect themselves and then to raise awareness among others.

UNFPA is also involved in condom promotion through social marketing. Boxes of condoms can be found kept at prominent places in front of all Drayangs (Dance Bars), hotels, discotheques or other public places visited by youngsters.

Chapter 3 stories
National HIV/AIDS Control Programme
Chapter 1 stories
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Chapter 2
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