It would be disturbing to learn that the HIV-AIDS prevalence rate in Cambodia is the highest in Southeast Asia. And it would be appalling to know that an estimated 140,000 Cambodian children will be orphaned due to AIDS by the year 2010.
In fact, both snippets of recently publicized information about the HIV-AIDS situation in Cambodia are even more shocking because, they are not true.
A Save the Children news release received Monday included the two erroneous statistics along with two other incorrect facts: that 164,000 Cambodians are living with HIV-AIDS and an estimated 51,000 AIDS orphans are under the age of 15.
Save the Children Australia Country Director Nigel Tricks apologized for the incorrect figures on Tuesday, saying they came from his organization’s main office in Melbourne and had not been updated.
“Cambodia is one of the world’s few success stories,” Tricks said, adding that SCA estimates there are, in Cambodia, 65,000 people living with HIV-AIDS and 6,000 AIDS orphans are under the age of 15.
Experts agree that Cambodia has achieved marked success in lowering the AIDS rate in recent years.
According to the National AIDS Authority, the HIV-AIDS prevalence rate in Cambodia, which has been on a steady decline since 1998, is the lowest yet at 0.9 percent. There are an estimated 67,200 people over the age of 15 living with HIV-AIDS and no one knows quite how many children have been orphaned as a result of the disease, NAA Secretary-General Teng Kunthy said Tuesday.
The last time the prevalence rate was 2.6 percent was at its peak in 1998, and then, only in urban areas, Teng Kunthy said, adding that the prevalence rate countrywide at that time was 2.0 percent.
Savina Ammassari, UNAIDS monitoring and evaluation adviser, said Wednesday that Cambodia is one of the few countries in the world that has begun to actually turn the tide of HIV-AIDS.
“There is no doubt Cambodia has been successful in making an important impact. Whether it will be a lasting impact is not granted unless we continue to sustain and scale up the response,” she said. “Achievements could all too easily be reversed.”
Teng Kunthy said Thailand saw a mild resurgence in its epidemic in recent years, which he attributed to complacency. UNAIDS said Thailand’s current prevalence rate is 1.4 percent.
“Success encourages us to continue our work,” Teng Kunthy said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
The success is due to increased awareness among Cambodians, according to Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV-AIDS, Dermatology and STIs, who said that 97 percent of Cambodians now know about HIV-AIDS, even in rural areas.
Ammassari said Cambodia has accumulated remarkably comprehensive data on a consistent basis, which has allowed for trends to be identified early and acted upon.
In some ways, however, the epidemic has only changed shape, rather than improved. It’s no longer sex workers in brothels that are the main focus group, but new target groups—specifically men who have sex with men, whose prevalence rate in 2005 was 7.8 percent, and intravenous drug users, according to NAA.
Mean Chhi Vun said that while condom use in brothels is at a high of 95 percent, Cambodians use condoms with “sweethearts,” or casual acquaintances, only 50 percent of the time.