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HIV/AIDS Epidemic Scare In Bhutan

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is racing against time to prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from assuming epidemic proportions with the nation witnessing a rise in// the number of prostitutes and lack of safe sex practices.

Bhutan's Public Health Division has launched a three-year programme to encourage the use of condoms and voluntary testing of blood to prevent HIV from spreading.

The UNAIDS estimates 500 HIV-infected people in Bhutan, a country of 600,000 people.

"Ninety-four percent of the infection transmission was through unprotected sex," Tshewang Dorji, programme officer of Bhutan's National HIV/AIDS Commission, was quoted as saying in the nation's government-run newspaper Kuensel.

Low level of literacy, ignorance about the disease and a rise in commercial sex workers in Bhutan has led to HIV/AIDS hitting the population.

"The low condom use coupled with liberal sexual norms, increasing trends in commercial sex work, low literacy, lack of awareness, massive youth population, porous border and high stigma (attached to the disease) were seen as setting the stage for potentially large scale HIV epidemic in the country," Kuensel said.

The report quoting the Information and Communication Bureau (ICB) of Bhutan's health ministry said 88 percent of the people infected with virus were young, a majority of them women below 29 years of age.

"It (HIV) had also touched a whole cross-section of the Bhutanese society, business enterprises, armed forces, educated government and corporation employees to farmers and sex-workers including unemployed youth, and it had been recorded in 15 of the 20 dzongkhags (districts)," the Kuensel said.

"In Bhutan stigma comes from ignorance - the fear that it could be transmitted through air or water, and we have to dispel this fear," said Sonam Phuntsho, joint director of ICB.

The first HIV case was reported in the country in 1993 a
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