Stigma Reduction and HIV Prevention
Lhak-Sam is unwaveringly committed to nurturing a more compassionate society by challenging social perceptions and fears associated with people living with HIV (PLHIV) and their children. Our mission is to empower all individuals to access prevention, testing, treatment, care, and support services without encountering discrimination. Despite our tireless efforts to combat the epidemic, persistent fear and stigma related to HIV continue to impede progress and obstruct the national objective of ending AIDS as a public health concern.
Throughout history, AIDS has been portrayed as both deadly and morally tainted, perpetuating negative perceptions within society. Breaking free from these deeply ingrained fear and beliefs and preventing their transmission to future generations poses a significant challenge. Cultural norms, ancient texts, and religious doctrines further compound social perceptions and behaviors of fear, stigma, and discrimination, creating formidable barriers to service access and driving marginalized populations into secrecy.
Stigma reaches its high point when it becomes codified in laws, compelling at-risk populations to seek services covertly, thus increasing the risk of disease transmission. Instances of reckless breaches of confidentiality and discrimination within healthcare settings also hinder Lhak-Sam’s efforts to bridge the service gap between providers and seekers.
This reality might elude the unconcerned and ignorant, but failing in the battle against HIV and AIDS could put at risk our nation’s development, prosperity, and well-being. A 2022 study conducted by Lhak-Sam uncovered that stigma among PLHIV surpasses the target set by the Global AIDS Strategy (2010-2016) of less than 10%. Participants in the study also reported lower levels of happiness compared to the Bhutan Living Standards Survey (BLSS) in 2017, reflecting a decrease of 14.8%.
Lhak-Sam is resolutely committed to addressing these challenges through consistent awareness, sensitization, and educational programs. We employ diverse communication platforms, utilizing personal stories, to enhance public knowledge and understanding of the societal impact of HIV and AIDS. Demystifying myths, promoting human values and rights, and emphasizing the significance of prevention, testing, and treatment for HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cervical cancer (Pap smear test), as well as the importance of condoms and contraceptives, constitute vital components of our approach. Furthermore, we extend assistance and escort services to facilitate individuals’ access to critical healthcare resources.
Our dedication to diminishing stigma and averting HIV transmission is yielding positive outcomes. The number of individuals seeking HIV-antibody testing has surged, with 130,000 people undergoing testing in 2022, compared to a mere 3,600 individuals in 2010. We have also made significant progress in advocating for policies ensuring access to quality prevention, diagnostic, and treatment services. Our sensitization initiatives within healthcare settings have enhanced the provision of non-discriminatory services. Lhak-Sam remains steadfast in its mission to cultivate a society free from stigma and halt the spread of HIV.
While our commitment to the cause remains unwavering, we confront limitations stemming from inadequate human resources and a dearth of comprehensive evidence, as public stigma assessment is still pending.