Men Kim Lon had a message for both men and women on World AIDS Day: Use a condom. It could save your life.
She is in a position to know. Men Kim Lon is one of thousands of carriers in Cambodia of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
The 21-year-old woman, originally from Kompong Thom province, was sold to a brothel in Battambang last year. She spent seven months being forced to have sex with numerous men until she was rescued by a friend.
She lost her dignity and her family. And now, though she has work as an advocate for Cambodian Women’s Development Agency, she faces losing her life to AIDS.
“I have HIV and I’m not a virgin anymore so I can’t go back to the province and my family,” she said through tears Monday at the Ministry of Health’s World AIDS day press conference. “I want to say to people, ‘Please always use condom.’”
The HIV infection rate in Cambodia is among the highest in Asia, health officials said.
“Cambodia has approximately 150,000 HIV-infected people,” estimated Mean Chhivun, director of National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control.
While the government has launched a condom-use campaign in cooperation with NGOs and local businesses, selling 1 million condoms per month, Mean Chhivun said the HIV infection rate is still surging because it is difficult to get the message out.
“The major reason is lack of social movement in changing of the social norms…we lack the social mobilization,” he said.
Tia Phalla, director of the ministry’s HIV/AIDS program, estimated Monday that about 30,000 men visit prostitutes every day in Cambodia.
“About 50 to 100 people get infected with HIV in a single day. This is the worst in Asian countries,” he said.
A recent Ministry of Health survey indicated that four out of 10 prostitutes are HIV victims while one of every five beer promoters has contracted the disease. The rate of HIV carriers among police was 6.2 percent while 2.4 percent of married women are also infected.