A large-scale blood-testing program among pregnant women in Cambodia found that 0.25 percent were infected with HIV/ AIDS, a government official said yesterday, adding that this prevalence rate was significantly lower than previous estimates of about 1 percent.
Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS Dermatology and STD, said during the first quarter of 2010 the center’s HIV/AIDS screening program tested 23,964 pregnant women in 11 provinces and found an overall average infection rate of 0.25 percent.
The last study on a similar scale, the HIV Sentinel Surveillance from 2006, estimated the infection rate among pregnant women attending health clinics at 1.1 percent.
“[This] proves that the prevalence rate is about 0.25 percent only. It dramatically declined compared to 2006’s estimated prevalence rate, which was 1 percent,” Dr Chhi Vun said, adding average infection rates among pregnant women varied between the provinces from 0.15 percent to 0.5 percent.
Dr Chhi Vun said last year NCHADs program for screening pregnant women had already found that infection rates of around 0.25 percent, but the number of women tested had since more than doubled as the program continues to be scaled up.
During the first quarter of 2010, 412 health centers and 33 district hospitals were involved in testing pregnant women, he said, up from 68 centers and five hospitals at the program’s start in 2008.
Penelope Campbell, chief of HIV and AIDS at Unicef, which supports about a third of the program’s testing activities, said the program had shown infection rates among pregnant women were lower than had been previously estimated.
“With the expansion of screening of pregnant women the number of infected women has been lower than estimated,” she said, adding the declining infection rates in this group was part of the general trend of declining HIV/AIDS infection rates among the Cambodian population.
The current predicted prevalence rate for the general population in Cambodia is 0.7 percent, which is a sharp decline from the 2 percent rate reported in 1998, UNAIDS said in January.
Ms Campbell did however also point to data from the National Maternal Child Health Center, which found that among 146,453 pregnant women tested for HIV/AIDS in 2009, 1,128 pregnant women, or 0.77 percent, tested positive.
Dr Chhi Vun said he was unfamiliar with the NMCHC data and declined to comment on the difference in reported infection rates.
He went on to say that pregnant women who tested positive for HIV/AIDS go on to receive medical advice and treatment from the 14th week of their pregnancy onward. This treatment aims to fight the virus infection and reduce the chance of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, he said, while adding that newborn babies would also receive medication.
In 2009, the virus transmission rate from mother to child after treatment was between 7 and 10 percent, Dr Chhi Vun said, explaining that without treatment this rate is around 25 percent.
“We are hoping to reduce the infection from mother to child to 1 to 2 percent… We are eager to see the prevalence rate of HIV infection from mother to babies drop to 0.5 percent in 2020,” he added.