Bhutan: Towards creating an equal society for HIV and LGBT+ communities

Bhutan is one of the few countries in South Asia that continues to experience a low adult (15-49 years) HIV prevalence according to the Country progress report on HIV response in Bhutan 2015.  

With knowledge about HIV mostly coming from the posters and pictures, which depicted HIV as a deadly and a killer disease, executive director of Lhak-Sam, Wangda Dorji, recalls the fear he and his wife felt in the past. “My wife and I promised that even in the future when our children get married we will not share even to our family, let alone others.”

With various aims of reducing isolation and discrimination, to provide information, education, care, support, awareness and treatment literacy, and to built confidence and to empower people living with HIV and affected family members, Lhak-Sam was formed in 2009. It was formally registered as a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in December 20, 2010.

Lhak-Sam has 171 members from around 18 districts, with 18 HIV positive children. With the ultimate goal of building competency and having their own registered organisation Lhak-Sam also about 90 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT+) members.

Wangda Dorji said because people do not have in depth knowledge on HIV, people are aware of how HIV is transmitted and can be prevented but are unable to take the knowledge and practise together. “When they do not understand about HIV there are chances of them stigmatising people living with HIV and fearing HIV itself.”

The main challenge the CSO faces is the need for collaboration and partnership with the health ministry. As the CSO works in grassroots level and the ministry in national, they are not able to coordinate and work towards prevention and reducing stigmatisation and discrimination towards people living with HIV, LGBT+, drug users or sex workers.

If the advocacy done by the CSO is accompanied by the technical experience of the health ministry such as counselling and testing, the CSO hopes to encourage at least 30 out of 100 people to test themselves. Read more via Kuensel