Despite the government’s stated goal of providing 3,000 Cambodians access to anti-retroviral drugs by year’s end, doctors are concerned that children living with HIV/AIDS are not yet getting the life-prolonging medicine.
“Children living with HIV need anti-retroviral drugs,” said Dr Chhour Y-Meng, director of the National Pediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh. “Both adults and children living with HIV/AIDS are human and have the right to medical services, so if adults get anti-retrovirals, then children also need it.”
The government estimates that there are 157,000 adults in Cambodia living with HIV/AIDS, 22,000 of whom have developed full-blown AIDS.
Hor Bunleng, deputy chief of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV/AIDS program in Cambodia, said there are an estimated 5,000 children living with the disease in Cambodia and more than 60,000 children who have been orphaned as a result of AIDS. He said the number of orphans will likely reach 97,000 by 2006.
Though some hospitals provide ARVs to adults living with HIV/AIDS, children have yet to be given the drugs, Chhour Y-Meng said. “I appeal to NGOs working with the Ministry of Health to support a program to provide drugs for children with HIV/AIDS and we have to provide [them] forever,” he said.
Chhour Y-Meng said children living with the disease are not well- fed because their families are often poor and cannot afford nutritious food or medicine to treat other ailments.
Three organizations—Sihanouk Hospital, Medecins sans Frontieres and Medecins du Monde—comprise the bulk of the field of official anti-retroviral dissemination in Phnom Penh, while countless small pharmacies sell ARVs to consumers, often without proper indications for usage.
Dr Prak Reak Sa of Medecins sans Frontiers, an AIDS project official in Kompong Cham province, said not enough Cambodians—of any age—have access to anti-retroviral drugs.