NGOs, Gov’t Brace for a ‘Second Wave’ of HIV Epidemic

To mark World AIDS Day yesterday, a group of NGOs raised concerns that funding shortages, discrimination and human rights abuses endanger Cambodia’s success in combating HIV/AIDS.

“The challenges of the maturing epidemic now call for continued funding for high impact interventions and sustained treatment services,” said a joint statement released by seven NGOs and the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee, a network of 118 NGOs.

The statement said successes remain blighted by barriers to anti-retroviral drug treatment and high infection rates among three key groups: sex workers, IV drug users, and men having sex with men.

HIV-positive Cambodians still face financial problems and discrimination from health service providers, while police crackdowns continue to plague efforts to reach sex workers and drug users, it said.

Tim Vora, executive director of HACC, said fewer donations from abroad have jeopardized initiatives to tackle HIV/AIDS, and that only half of the $510 million budget for the country’s next five-year plan to combat the disease had been obtained. “If there is no funding and support most NGOs will stop programs. So how can we provide ARVs to patients?” asked Mr Vora. “Now for the second wave, the most at-risk populations need support.”

During a World AIDS Day ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, National AIDS Authority chairman Nuth Sokhom also noted a drop in international funding to fight challenges ahead.

“Although achieving many successes with pride, we [must] challenge a new wave of the HIV epidemic,” Mr Sokhom said, noting that risks face migrant workers, women in the entertainment industry and intravenous drug users.

In a speech, Ms Rany celebrated the halving of HIV prevalence from 2 percent in 1998 to 0.9 percent in 2003, with projections for 2011 set at 0.6 percent. “Nevertheless, I wish to emphasize that our mission has not come to its end yet,” she said.

Tony Lisle, UNAIDS country coordinator, said any declines in funding would only start to be felt in 2013 and that efforts should focus on concentrated epidemics among risk groups. “Cambodia can use the resources it has in a more cost-effective way.”

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