Experts Doubt Report on AIDS In Cambodia

Released to coincide with Thurs­­­day’s observance of World AIDS Day, a new report written by an Asian Development Bank eco­n­o­mist warns that Cambodia could potentially suffer serious eco­­nomic damage as a result of the AIDS epidemic.

The new research, which uses a statistical model that was recently used to project the economic impact of HIV/AIDS for Africa, proposes economic repercussions described as “particularly worrisome in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Gui­nea.”

While saying they share some of the concerns expressed in the ADB report, local health experts voiced a measure of skepticism about the results overall, arguing that the HIV prevalence figure of 2.6 percent, cited in the research, seemed to be outdated.

“There appears to be a significant difference between the latest estimates released by the [Royal Government of Cambodia] last year indicating a prevalence of 1.9 percent among the general population in 2003, and the baseline data of 2.6 percent used for the analysis of ADB,” said Massimo Ghidinelli, adviser for HIV/AIDS for the local office of the World Health Organization.

Rodney Hatfield, country representative for the UN Children’s Fund, said that HIV prevalence in adults aged 15 to 49 has gone down from a peak of 3 percent in 1997 to 1.9 percent in 2003.

“There’s been a steady decline here since it was at 2.6 percent in about 1999,” he said. “It would appear that [the ADB] are relying on old numbers.”

In an e-mail Thursday, ADB economist and report author Ajay Tandon wrote that the key message of his research is that Cam­bodia and Papua New Guinea—the two countries singled out as prob­lematic—are particularly vulnerable to harmful economic re­percussions.

Both nations have seen prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS that are high enough to pose serious problems, Tandon said.

While noting the “recent de­cline” in HIV/AIDS prevalence in Cam­bodia, Tandon wrote that he used the prevalence rate of 2.6 percent based on 2003 estimates that UNAIDS published earlier this year

Even modest increases of the prevalence rate can have significant effects on future growth of the country’s economy by cutting labor productivity and human capital, and slowing population growth rates, he said.

“For instance, if Cambodia sees HIV/AIDS prevalence rates that increase to 4 percent in 2010 this could lead to a 2 percent decline in GDP per capita,” Tandon wrote.

“The flip side is that if current declines in HIV/AIDS in Cambo­dia continue, the macroeconomic be­nefits can be expected to be significant, as well.”

Surveillance surveys indicate decreasing trends of HIV/AIDS in all population groups studied over the last several years in Cambodia, the WHO’s Ghidinelli said.

“Cambodia is known to have a rather accurate and reliable system for monitoring the epidemic and generating estimates and projections,” said Ghidinelli, who urged “some prudence” in interpreting the key points of the ADB report.


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