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Layaps more vulnerable to STD, HIV/AIDS

The small Layap community of a little more than 800 people that live in the northern borders of remote Gasa dzongkhag are at enormous risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, according to study report by the health sector.

"All the risk behaviours that increase HIV transmission are highly prevalent within the nomadic community," a health ministry spokesperson said. "Although HIV has not been detected in the community a high sexually transmitted infection (STI) level is a signal of unprotected sex with multiple partners.

The high risk of STI prevalence is proven by the high rate of RPR (laboratory test for syphilis) among the samples tested."

Laya Gasa
According to the study both males and females have multiple partners, extramarital sexual practices were rampant, promiscuity was reported both among males and females although it was more among males, sexual experience began by the age of 15 and night hunting was an accepted practice leading to multiple partners.

As very mobile people both within and outside the country there was an increased risk in contracting HIV, the study states.

The study adds that while one third of the respondents had excellent knowledge of condoms the use of it was almost nil.

The study interviewed a total of 40 respondents, 19 females and 21 males aged between 15 to 45 years.

Health officials say that aggressive strategies are necessary to bridge the gap of knowledge and practice of less risky sexual behaviour. Condom promotion programmes should be strengthened and condoms made easily available.

Layap women
"In the era of HIV the threat to the existence of the community deserves closer attention," said the health spokesperson. "But all intervention programmes must be designed with the participation of the community. Their views and values should be respected."

The UNFPA goodwill ambassador, Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, leaves today for Gasa, Laya, and Lingzhi on a two week advocacy campaign on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, and drug abuse.

Meanwhile, the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country has reached 74 of which 39 are male and 35 female. Of the total 17 have died.

This article was contributed by Rinzin Wangchuk, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006

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The launching of the web page would promote communication, transparency and further enhance effectiveness in delivering qualitative developmental activities and also promote tourism, a dzongkhag official said.

The web page also carries all necessary information about the dzongkhag located in the extreme north west of the country bordered by Tibet. Of the dzongkhag's four gewogs, Laya and Lunana, are located at an altitude of 3,800 to 4,200 meters. The people there lead a nomadic life compelling them to seasonally migrate to higher places in summer and to the lower valleys of Punakha and Wangdue in winter. These extremities posed formidable challenges to the dzongkhag in delivering developmental activities and services, said a dzongkhag official.

In a recent development, Laya gewog was connected with a telephone facility. With mountain passes over 5,000 meters, all telephone equipment were lifted in a helicopter. There are also plans for these two gewogs to be connected with e-service. Druknet of Bhutan Telecom helped the dzongkhag to launch the web page.

Source: KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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