Although Cambodia remains the Asian country with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, the number of people infected with HIV or living with AIDS continues to creep downward.
It’s estimated that 164,000 Cambodians have HIV or AIDS, a drop of about 2.3 percent from 2001 estimates of 168,000 cases.
Although the numbers show slight improvement, officials who gathered Thursday at the World Red Cross Red Crescent Day at Wat Phnom expressed despair over Cambodia’s plight.
“I feel sorrowful about the number of people with AIDS,” said Mam Sophal, coordinator of Home Care Network, a partnership between the Ministry of Health and several NGOs that provides at-home care for people with AIDS.
The theme of this year’s Red Cross Red Crescent Day was “The Truth about AIDS,” and its aim was not only to promote HIV/AIDS education but to prevent discrimination against people living with AIDS.
“People with AIDS should live without discrimination,” said Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, one the 1,500 representatives from aid agencies and municipal offices who attended the ceremony. Mam Sophal said efforts by his organization and others have helped to reduce discrimination against people with AIDS.
“More people are beginning to feel sympathetic toward people with AIDS and not discriminating against them,” he said.
Pum Channy of the Cambodian Red Cross estimated that as many as 100,000 children will become orphans because their parents will die of AIDS-related illnesses. If the country’s AIDS education campaigns fail to reduce levels of HIV infection, that numbers could climb to 500,000.
Since 1991, 80,000 Cambodians have died from AIDS-related illnesses, said Pum Channy. She estimated that there will be 230,000 AIDS-related deaths by 2010 if people living with AIDS aren’t treated with anti-retroviral drugs or rates of infection aren’t slowed.
“Just knowing how to only protect yourself against AIDS is not enough, you actually have to use that protection,” she said.
Around 375 people with AIDS die annually in Cambodia and more than 2,000 residents of Phnom Penh are infected with HIV, according to figures provided by Mam Sophal. He suspects there are many more people with HIV who are not seeking treatment.