Mobile Phone Program Aims to Reach HIV-Vulnerable Groups

A mobile phone program aimed at offering information on HIV prevention to groups at a higher risk of contracting the disease, such as sex workers, gay men and drug users, was launched Thursday.

The new program “m-Health” includes the “Voice4U” phone line which offers callers HIV-based counseling, quizzes and even a serial drama, said Amy Weissman, associate director of FHI 360, a health NGO that helped develop the service.

Ms. Weissman said she hopes the platform, which also includes websites and Facebook pages with HIV-related news and services, will enable more of the country’s roughly 60,000 individuals at high risk of contracting the virus to access information about preventing infection.

“The idea is these services can reach beyond where we can currently reach across Cambodia and to reach people who are maybe unwilling to be reached by NGOs or where NGOs don’t work.”

Ms. Weissman said the anonymous line—which can link callers with counselors from organizations including reproductive health NGO Marie Stopes—would be advertised in magazines, on tuk tuks and online in an effort to attract those who may feel uncomfortable with coming out about their sexual orientation.

“We know there are also MSM [men who have sex with men] who are uncomfortable disclosing their sexual preferences so there are many more people who could potentially access this service and it gives people to chance to seek info without having to identify themselves,” she said.

Sou Sotheavy, a transgender rights activist, was skeptical about how popular “m-Health” would be among at-risk groups.

“I think this program is not very helpful for preventing HIV. How many people will learn and know about this program?” she asked.

“We must talk and discuss face-to-face, then they will receive much more than a program on the phone,” she said.

The rate of HIV infection among Cambodians between the ages of 15 and 49 has dropped from 1.7 percent in the late 1990s to 0.7 percent today.

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