Despite government efforts to provide information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cambodia, people in remote areas, especially Cham Muslims, are less aware of the problem, health officials said Monday
As a way of increasing awareness, Cham leaders are attending a two-day workshop on Law Enforcement and Human Rights Policy for those infected with HIV/AIDS, Zakaryya Adam, a Cham and secretary of state of the Ministry of Cult and Religions, said. Only about 20 percent of the 500,000 Cambodian Muslims living in the country are aware of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how to prevent transmission, but those in remote areas are critically less aware, he added.
One Cham attendee, who declined to be named, said he had never seen a condom before the conference.
“We enforce Islamic principles,” he said. “Most Muslim religious people are not comfortable having sex before marriage.”
Ung Vuthy, vice-chair of the National AIDS Authority, said attitudes about talking about sex need to change. “Some housewives are scared to talk about condom use and sometimes feel stigma with condoms. Some of the younger generation feel shy talking about condoms and sexual intercourse.”
Statistics on how many Cambodian Muslims have the disease are not available, Ung Vuthy said, because tracking infection rates according to religion would be discriminatory. “We are all human,” he said. “We are all the same.”
The number of adults living with HIV/AIDS has decreased from 157,000 in 2002 to 123,000 in late 2003, Ung Vuthy said. Despite the decrease in newly diagnosed cases, more are dying from the disease than ever, officials said. Ly Tenh Sun, deputy director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STI said that an estimated 50 people die from AIDS every day, 25 percent more than in the past.