AIDS Patients Tell Stories at Public Forum

One woman told the crowd gathered at a public forum held Wednesday to mark World AIDS Day that she was infected with HIV through her husband, who had unprotected sex with prostitutes.

A soldier said he didn’t believe that AIDS existed in Cambodia until he got a blood test in July that diagnosed him with HIV. He also had unprotected sex with a prostitute.

“I ask the government to fight AIDS and I ask all AIDS patients to go on TV to set an example for others,” said Bo Samath, whose wife died of AIDS-related causes in April.

More than 100 people attended or participated in the forum, which was sponsored by the Center for Social Development, the National AIDS Authority and Family Health International Implementing AIDS Prevention and Care Project.

Those who attended include prostitutes, people living with HIV/AIDS, National AIDS Authority officials, monks, soldiers, police officers, and other government officials.

AIDS experts say Cambodia has the worst AIDS epidemic in Asia, with the virus spreading to the general population. About 200,000 Cambodians have HIV/AIDS, representing almost 2 percent of the population. The majority of Cambodians with HIV were infected through heterosexual sex. “To tackle the problem of HIV/AIDS, we need to change the behavior of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, particularly their sexual behavior,” said Dy Narong Rith, vice chair of the National AIDS Authority.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the forum was held to empower citizens to share their concerns and needs.

One woman cried as she told the forum attendees that when her husband got sick several years ago, he told her he had problems with his liver. She later found out he had HIV—and that he had infected her. Her husband died two years ago.

One mother told the crowd that four of her five children have died of AIDS-related causes.

“If you have any relatives who got AIDS, don’t kick them out,” she said. “Take care of them the best you can.”

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