The first conference in Cambodia to explore the connection between the spread of AIDS and the growth of economic migration on Thursday showed that migrants are at greater risk of contracting HIV than non-migrants.
The Coordinated Action Research on Aids and Mobility in Cambodia and the National AIDS Program hosted the one-day meeting on HIV/AIDS and migration at the Juliana Hotel.
Internal and cross-border migrants are particularly at risk of contracting HIV, according to a speaker specializing in health care in developing countries.
“People are taken out of traditional communities—companies don’t take families—they’re isolated and need to build new communities. And with loneliness comes sexual need,” said Ivan Wolfers, a Dutch professor. He noted that in Africa migrants are 10 times more likely to contract HIV than non-migrants, and speculated that the same holds true in Cambodia. The virus HIV often leads to AIDS.
Dr Tea Phalla, deputy director of the National Center of AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted diseases, said Cambodian women married to migrant workers also are vulnerable. He said that during a recent visit to a village in the Sre Ambel district of Koh Kong province he learned that 5 percent of Cambodian housewives whose blood samples he tested were HIV-positive.
He estimated that 150,000 Cambodians are HIV-positive, including 42 percent of the country’s sex workers, 19 percent of bar girls, and 6 percent of policemen. He said 60 percent of sex workers in Phnom Penh are HIV-positive. Conclusive studies were not presented, however.
So far, the government has not addressed the connection between migration and AIDS, Tea Phalla said. He advocated awareness programs in schools, especially in rural areas where most migrants come from.
Seventy-three representatives from organizations like Unicef and the Women’s Crisis Center to the ministries of Education and Industry attended, many more than expected on a public holiday, organizers said.