Local AIDS Rates Rise

One million Cambodians soon could be infected with the AIDS virus if tougher preventive measures are not taken, Minister for Health Chhea Thaing warned Tuesday. He was speaking at a meeting of the National Com­mittee for HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and Control.

The committee is charged with developing a nationwide action plan to combat the spread of AIDS. The meeting marked the start of a Ministry of Health campaign to gain the support of other government agencies and the population as a whole for the plan.

The minister said al­though condom sales has increased to 900,000 a month, the AIDS problem is still growing. Ministry figures suggest there are be­tween 30 and 50 new infections a day. Cases of HIV are concentrated heavily among the 5 million people living in Phnom Penh and the surrounding provinces.

Chhea Thaing drew attention to the increasing number of housewives falling victim to the virus. “AIDS is no longer a mon­opoly for sex workers,” he said, citing a statistic that 20,000 housewives have contracted HIV from their husbands. A further 40,000 are at risk from infected husbands. An estimated 120,000 Cambodians are HIV-positive.

His warning was supported by an emotional appeal from an HIV-positive mother, one of three Cambodian victims of the virus who addressed the meeting. The 38-year-old and her son, now four, contracted HIV from her husband. He died in 1995.

“We must educate Khmer wo­men in how to protect themselves from this disease because our custom and loyalty to our husbands are no longer sufficient,” she said in tears.

The other speakers—an ex-prostitute and a young man—reiterated the woman’s plea for education and encouraged everyone to use condoms. Both said they did not realize they were at risk of contracting HIV.

Robert Fisher of the World Health Organization said the epidemic, still in its early stages here, could be contained with the right precautions.

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