Migrants’ AIDS Risk Higher, Conference Participants Warn

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.


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