Condom use during commercial sex is on the increase while “significantly fewer” men are going to sex workers, the annual behavior survey from the National Center for HIV/AIDS has found.
Close to 90 percent of prostitutes reported that they always use condoms with their clients, according to the survey. That’s up from 80 percent in 1999, the last year a comparable behavior survey was done. In 1997, just 37 percent said they always used condoms.
Among beer girls, condom use is lower, with just 56 percent saying they always use condoms. But that is still a significant increase from 39 percent in 1999 and just 10 percent in 1997.
Just 20 percent of soldiers said they had visited a prostitute in the month before they were interviewed, down from 47 percent in 1999.
The survey also found that more beer girls are selling sex, with 30.4 percent of those questioned in 2001 saying they had been paid for sex, up from 25.2 percent in 1999.
The 2001 survey was conducted among soldiers, policemen and brothel workers—members of high-risk demographic groups —and motorcycle taxi drivers, beer girls and karaoke girls—members of intermediate risk demographic groups.
More than 2,800 face-to-face interviews were conducted in Phnom Penh, Kompong Cham, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap and Battambang towns.
The annual survey began in 1997 in order to track behavior trends and to find more information on the social conditions behind the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
“More sexual activity is reported in all groups with sweethearts,” the survey said. “[But] in all groups, more people are getting tested for HIV.”
The survey also found that karaoke girls “closely resemble” brothel workers in their behavior, and some brothel workers said they had previously worked as karaoke girls.
The survey hailed Cambodia’s prevention efforts, which have caused Cambodia’s high rate of HIV to level off in recent years. About 168,000 people, or 2.8 percent of the adult population, were estimated to have HIV in a 2001 government report.
The survey warned that condom promotion and risk behavior reduction efforts need to be maintained.
“Conditions haven’t changed. There are lots of opportunities for a rebound in infection rates,” said UNAIDS country program adviser Geoff Manthey.
Manthey said a more stable economy and more disposable income in Phnom Penh and other urban areas could lead to an upswing in HIV infection rates, with men spending more time in brothels and with “indirect” sex workers—such as beer and karaoke girls—and perhaps not using condoms.
This has been true in wealthy western countries and in Thailand, which saw a small increase in its HIV rate a few years ago after years of positive prevention efforts.
“You can slack off, but the virus won’t,” he said.