The number of commercial sex workers infected with HIV declined slightly from 1998 to 1999, but the wives of husbands who go to prostitutes are being infected at an increasing rate, health experts said Wednesday.
According to the annual survey of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, 33.2 percent of commercial sex workers had HIV in 1999, a decline from 42.6 percent in 1998. Among sex workers under 20 years old, the HIV prevalence rate dropped almost by half, from 40.8 percent in 1998 to 26 percent in 1999.
Although that news is encouraging, health experts caution that a trickle-down effect is taking place, with the wives of husbands who go to prostitutes being infected at an increasing rate. The National AIDS Authority has estimated that 2.7 percent of housewives have been infected with HIV and that rate is rising. In turn, infected housewives often pass along the virus to their newborns.
“While we should be very encouraged, the overall epidemic and proportion of new cases is not decreasing,” said professor Richard Detels of the University of California at Los Angeles, an AIDS expert who was a consultant for the survey. “We in Cambodia still have to be concerned.”
The annual survey is done to help the government and others estimate HIV prevalence among target groups, such as commercial sex workers, and to understand trends of the epidemic. Data was collected through random blood samples taken from target groups in 20 provinces.
The number of HIV cases reported to the National Center for HIV/AIDS was 7,726 in 1999, compared to 6,152 in 1998, according to survey results.
The survey also showed the total number of people infected with HIV has remained relatively stable over the last few years, decreasing slightly from 185,000 infected in 1998 to 170,000 in 1999. Experts say the small drop is not that significant in light of the bigger picture of the epidemic.
“Up to now, Cambodia was considered to have a rapidly increasing epidemic,” said professor John Kaldor, a World Health Organization consultant for the survey. “But the prevalence of HIV has stayed constant over the last few years.”
Although that is good news, the survey also shows that the number of people dying or getting sick because of AIDS—the advanced stage of HIV—has risen.
Because there are enough newly infected people to replace those who have gotten sick or died, the number of people with HIV remains about the same.
The number of AIDS related deaths in 1999 was 314, compared to 229 in 1998. The number of AIDS cases reported in 1999 was 2,556, compared to 1,494 in 1998.
Among target groups in the survey, commercial sex workers had the highest HIV prevalence, followed by beer girls at 19.8 percent and free-lance sex workers at 16.7 percent.
Hor Bun Leng, deputy director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, attributed the decline in HIV prevalence among commercial sex workers to three factors: outreach programs, the government’s 100 percent condom use program among prostitutes and STD case management.
South and Southeast Asia had six million people infected with HIV at of the end of 1999, representing the second highest concentration of people having the virus in the world, just behind sub-Saharan Africa, Detels said.
“HIV/AIDS is a disease of the developing world, not the developed world,” he said. “That is unfortunate, because the developing world has the fewest resources with which to fight the epidemic.”