Ministry of Women’s Affairs officials expressed concern Monday over the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS among Cambodia’s adult population.
That view, expressed at a public debate on gender and HIV/AIDS at Phnom Penh’s Pannasastra University, was attributed to young adults becoming increasingly more sexually active.
Young adults—those at the bottom of the 15- to 49-year-old age range—“are more active in sexual intercourse and most of them do not have the proper knowledge to use a condom,” Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said before 700 students.
The national prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the adult population was 2.6 percent in 2002, down from 2.8 percent in 2001, said Pok Panhavichetr, executive director of the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance.
But, she said, “even though the prevalence rate is decreasing, the youth should avoid having sex without a condom because they are the next generation to develop the country’s future.”
There are 169,000 Cambodians infected with HIV or AIDS.
Poverty also lends to a high HIV/AIDS rate, said the ministry’s Secretary of State Ung Kantha Phavy. “Risky activities make poor people more vulnerable because they have less access to reliable information to protect themselves and they have less access to health services,” she said.
Dr Mam Sophal, coordinator of the Home Care Network, added that many of Cambodia’s urban men are vulnerable to the disease because they often travel outside provincial capitals to work in poor, rural areas, often bringing the virus home.
“These high-risk men travel to the [small] towns to work as motorcycle taxi drivers, construction workers and as garment workers. Sometimes those men have sex with prostitutes and get the disease,” Mam Sophal said. Also, it is not uncommon for an urban-dwelling man infected with HIV/AIDS to travel to poorer, rural areas to dupe women into marrying them.
Im Ravanh, one of the students in attendance, said he was saddened by the fact that young people were at such high risk.
“The chances of infection, particularly for those who engage in unprotected sexual activity are increased by ignorance,” he said. adding that he used to have sex with prostitutes frequently, but always wore a condom.