Despite a notable drop in the rate of HIV/AIDS transmission in Cambodia, more needs to be done to protect new mothers and children with parents who have contracted the virus, officials said yesterday at a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day.
Speaking at the ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Conference Center, Alice Levisay, a UN Population Fund representative, said more efforts should be directed at preventing infected mothers from passing on the virus to their children. Ms Levisay, who also chairs the UN Theme Group of HIV/ AIDS in Cambodia, said that orphans and “vulnerable” children also need to be protected.
“We collectively owe this commitment to every woman and child in Cambodia,” she said, adding one out of seven children aged 1 to 17 years old in the country are either impoverished or orphans who have lost one or more parents due to AIDS.
Ms Levisay said these children need to be integrated into society and social security networks to improve access to health and education services.
She also called for a stronger link between maternal health and sexual health sectors to curb the transmission of the virus between mother and child.
Phon Yuthsakara, chairman of the Steering Committee of the national HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee, said the rate of transmission from mothers is increasing along with new cases of infection among the most at-risk groups—men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users and women working in the entertainment or sex industry.
Mr Yuthsakara said as of 2007, Cambodia has had a prevalence rate of 0.9 percent, which is down from 1.2 percent in 2003. He added there are 71,100 people living with the virus in the country.
“Even though Cambodia has obtained a remarkable result, Cambodia could still face the second wave of the HIV epidemic,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany, president of the Cambodian Red Cross, presided over yesterday’s ceremony and praised the government’s efforts in combating the spread of the virus.
She also used the opportunity to promote the “100 Percent” condom use campaign by saying the actions of one family member can effect the whole family. “The husband transmits [HIV/AIDS] to the wife and then the wife transmits it to the baby,” Ms Rany said.
“We are still suffering as our people are infected with this disease,” she said.