Although efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS among high risk groups are working, the disease is threatening an increasing number of people who are much more difficult to protect.
The epidemic has spread to rural areas and is especially endangering married women, said participants at an HIV/AIDS workshop Thursday that was attended by government and NGO officials.
Some trends are encouraging. The number of cases among people aged 15 to 49 dropped from 3.3 to 2.6 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to a report presented by Vonthanak Saphonn of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, Dermatology and STDs.
In addition, health and education programs with sex workers and men who visit them have led to condoms being used 86 percent of the time in commercial sex, the report found. Between 1999 and 2002, the number of new HIV cases among sex workers dropped by half to 6.5 percent, and by nearly half to 2.8 percent among indirect sex workers.
But the report also expects about 274,000 HIV infection cases next year—30,000 more than in 2000—and 183,000 new AIDS cases, more than double the 2000 amount. The number of AIDS-related deaths is expected to reach nearly 160,000 next year, more than three times the 2000 amount.
After visiting sex workers, men infect their wives, said Tia Phalla, secretary general of the National AIDS Authority. Out of 20 new infections per day in 2002, the majority were married women and their babies, with only four being sex workers or their clients, he said.
In urban areas, the report found, one pregnant woman out of 100 who visited a clinic tested positive for HIV in 1999. At the time, new cases in rural areas increased only 0.11 percent. Three years later, that figure jumped fourfold, while the number of new cases in urban areas had dropped by 75 percent.
The number of infected women visiting antenatal clinics rose from 2.6 to 2.7 percent between 1997 and 2002. In Banteay Mancheay, Koh Kong, Siem Reap and Takeo provinces, as many as 4.6 percent of women are HIV infected, the highest rate in the country, according to last year’s figures from Family Health International.
Figures show that men who frequent sex workers often don’t use condoms with other partners. Deaths continue because married women are not protected and afraid to be tested, Tia Phalla said.