Despite a drop in the estimated number of adults with HIV, Cambodia still faces an AIDS epidemic “that could potentially reverse the development gains made since peace returned to the country three years ago,” according to a UN statement.
An estimated 200,000 Cambodians could contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in the next five years, the statement said. In April, the annual survey by the National Center for HIV/AIDS estimated that 169,000 people between the ages of 15 and 49 live with HIV, down from an estimated 184,000 in 1999 and 210,000 in 1997.
The statement accompanied the UN’s five-year strategy for combating HIV/AIDS presented Wednesday to the National AIDS Authority, which also finished a similar five-year strategy Wednesday.
“HIV infection is not uniformly distributed throughout the country but…it may evolve rapidly and unpredictably,” said the government’s National Strategic Plan for a Comprehensive and Multisectoral Response to HIV/AIDS 2001-2005. “The number of AIDS cases is expected to grow quickly” through 2005.
The plan stated a “great concern” for the large population of young people reaching sexual maturity who are at risk of contracting the disease if traditional Cambodian values aren’t resurrected or new values aren’t instilled.
“Values of sexual responsibility and fidelity would have a significant impact on the future course of the epidemic,” it said.
“However this optimism must be tempered with the fact that irresponsible sexual practice among this group is likely to accelerate the epidemic.”
It also warns of a rising number of orphans, the increased vulnerability of women, the marginalization and lack of access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and the role the disease is playing in widening the gap between rich and poor.
“A major constraint to lessen the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV/AIDS and to increase their status is the prevailing discriminatory attitudes in society especially among men,” it stated.
Strategy plans were written by the government in 1992, 1993 and 1998 to guide the nation in its efforts to prevent and control HIV/AIDS.
But those plans focused only on the health-aspect of the disease, said Geoff Manthey, country program adviser for UNAIDS. The new strategy will look “upstream” to underlying causes of the disease, such as illiteracy and poverty.
“We consider HIV/AIDS to be a socio-economic problem, not just health,” said Tia Phalla, secretary-general of the National AIDS Authority. “Our new paradigm is to consider it a development issue.”
Cambodia’s national strategy reflects many of the principles to be discussed at next week’s UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS.
Nine Cambodians are expected to attend the three-day session, which begins Monday in New York. They include Minister of Health Hong Sun Huot, Tia Phalla and National AIDS Authority vice-chairman Nuth Sokhom.