While Cambodia is being touted as a worldwide HIV/AIDS success story, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs warned Thursday that the infection rate among women is still alarmingly high.
According to the National AIDS Authority, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Cambodia, which has steadily declined since 1998, is now at an all-time low of 0.9 percent.
But of the 67,200 people documented by the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STIs as living with HIV/AIDS, around 35,000 of them are women, Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kanthaphavi said. Married women comprise 15,050 of that number.
The prevalence rate among pregnant women, however, has only decreased from 2.1 percent to 1.1 percent since 1999, Ing Kanthaphavi said during a ceremony in Phnom Penh to launch her ministry’s new, four-year HIV/AIDS strategic plan.
In the 1990s, sex workers and their clients were the main transmitters of HIV/AIDS, but now the face of the epidemic has changed as male clients of prostitutes have in turn infected their wives, she said.
“At the present time, married women and their children may have become victims through husband-to-wife transmission or transmission of mother to child,” Ing Kanthaphavi said.
The text of the strategic plan mentions that the largest number of new HIV infections occur in stable relationships, such as husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend, because partners are less likely to use condoms.
“Almost half of all new infections are among married women, and one-third of all new infections occur through perinatal transmission,” the plan states in its introduction.
The plan also says that young women leaving home and school to pursue work in garment factories, or service industries such as casinos and beer promotion are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS.
Dr Mean Chhi Vun, NCHADS director, said recently that while condom use in brothels had reached a rate of 95 percent, Cambodians use condoms with “sweethearts,” or casual acquaintances, only half of the time.
Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany, who presided over the launch, emphasized the need to channel efforts toward women and children.
“The disease is transmitting quietly among housewives because we have not paid as much attention to women and girls,” Bun Rany said.
“The consequences of AIDS lead to an increased number of orphans,” she said, adding that by 2003, an estimated 55,000 Cambodian children had already become orphaned due to AIDS.