High Rate of HIV Infection Among Intravenous Drug Users

While Cambodia is often touted as a regional success story in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention, the prevalence of the disease among men who have sex with men, sex workers and intravenous drug users remains a concern, according to a report by UNAIDS released Tuesday.

Infections have dropped significantly over the past decade, with 1,400 people contracting the virus in 2012 compared with 6,000 in 2001. A total of 76,000 people are currently living with HIV in Cambodia, the report found.

Out of about 54,000 HIV-infected people in need of anti-retroviral drug treatment, more than 44,000 were accessing medication, according to the report, which is based on data gathered in accordance with U.N. methodology by the National AIDS Authority and approved by UNAIDS.

“There is a decrease in new infections in Cambodia, and Cambodia has made tremendous progress,” said Marie-Odile Emond, country coordinator of UNAIDS.

Despite the progress, she said the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among homosexual men, injecting drug users and prostitutes was a concern.

The infection rate was highest for intravenous drug users at 25 percent.

“We have seen very high prevalence among key affected population, and one of them is injecting drug users. It’s 25 percent, and that percentage is stagnant…and that’s worrying,” Ms. Emond said.

Four percent of sex workers and 2.1 percent of men who have sex with men have HIV/AIDS, according to the report, which also found that 34 percent of men who have sex with men and 24 percent of female sex workers had not used a condom the last time they had sex.

Social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS leads many to try to hide their disease, the report explains, saying 60 percent of people living with the virus reported that they felt ashamed and 16 percent said that they had felt suicidal in the past 12 months.

UNAIDS also described some national laws as “barriers to HIV response”—for example, the criminalization of drug use left many users who inject afraid to seek help.

“A lot of drug users who have HIV tend to be more hidden and are afraid to get treatment because they think they might be arrested,” she said, adding that authorities often fail to understand that people living with HIV need daily treatment, even while imprisoned.

The law on human trafficking, which has led to raids and closures of brothels, has also had an impact by forcing sex workers to become streetwalkers.

“It’s becoming more hidden and more on the streets, so that means that it’s more difficult to reach the sex workers,” to educate them about HIV/AIDS and the importance of using condoms, Ms. Emond said.

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