Former US President Bill Clinton was in Phnom Penh on Monday visiting an orphanage, Wat Phnom and the National Museum and meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen to arrange medical treatment for 3,000 HIV-positive Cambodian children.
Speaking at the Council of Ministers, Clinton lauded Cambodia’s efforts in combating HIV/AIDS, calling it a model for other countries in the region and the rest of the world.
“For the last several years you have had an aggressive program that has reduced the infection rate here as it has gone up in most of the rest of the world,” Clinton said.
Before his speech, Clinton and Hun Sen signed a memorandum of understanding to provide for the medicinal needs of 3,000 HIV-positive children in Cambodia over the next year. Officials said the anti-retrovirals for the children would be presented directly to the Ministry of Health.
Reporters were asked by Clinton’s security guards to keep at least 20 meters away from the former president and were not allowed to ask any questions.
Hun Sen told reporters that Clinton’s visit was a historic one.
“Your presence is the first in the history of our relationship with the US that a former president has come to Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.
“We have decreased the [AIDS] epidemic to a remarkable rate, but it is not to our satisfaction yet,” he said.
Hun Sen also said that Clinton’s visit would send a vital message to Cambodia’s youth about avoiding HIV/AIDS and treating those who are infected in a humane manner.
“Your presence in Cambodia has given tremendous psychological value to prevent an AIDS epidemic and discrimination against those with the disease,” he said.
Alex Hurd, program coordinator for the Clinton Foundation in Cambodia, said that the foundation currently provides medical care for over 1,500 Cambodian children living with HIV/AIDS.
Health Minister Nuth Sokhom thanked Clinton for his support. The Clinton Foundation has also provided Cambodia with new equipment from Singapore to test blood for HIV, he said at the signing ceremony.
Noticeably absent from the signing was US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, whose wife, according to an embassy spokesman, had to be medically evacuated for undisclosed reasons to Singapore the same morning.
Kurt Stoppkotte, acting embassy spokesman, said Mussomeli met with Clinton around noon at the embassy after taking his wife to the airport.
“The ambassador met with Clin-ton at the embassy and escorted him around the embassy,” Stoppkotte said, adding that the US Agency for International Development’s Country Director Erin Soto attended the signing on Mussomeli’s behalf.
After the ceremony, Clinton met with HIV-positive orphans being cared for by the Catholic Maryknoll community and the NGO New Hope for Cambodian Children at a home for orphaned children in the capital.
John Tucker, adviser for New Hope, said Clinton chatted with the children at the orphanage, shaking their hands and holding some of them.
“He’s a fairly charismatic guy,” Tucker said.
Clinton left Monday for Siem Reap, where he plans to visit the Angkor Hospital for Children today, Hurd said.