Twenty-five years after the first case of HIV was reported in Cambodia, the country is on track to meet its target of eliminating new infections by 2025—if it remains vigilant, UNAIDS said on Tuesday.
Sexual partners of those in groups most vulnerable to infection—sex workers, gay men and drug users—pose the greatest threat to gains made against the virus, UNAIDS country director Marie-Odile Emond said.
The country’s fight against HIV/AIDS is considered a model for developing countries after a joint effort between the government and NGOs saw new HIV infections drop from 23,000 at the peak of the epidemic in 1995 to less than 1,000 last year.
A global report on AIDS released in Namibia by UNAIDS on Monday found that the sexual partners of sex workers, drug users and gay men were “increasingly” at risk.
“Of course, when they have unprotected sex with any partner then the risk is much higher for transmitting the virus,” Ms. Emond said.
Sustaining current prevention and treatment efforts among these populations was crucial to curbing the spread of the virus, she added.
When a person infected with HIV is being treated for the virus, “even unprotected sex with the person is much less likely to transmit the virus,” Ms. Emond said.
Keo Tha, secretary-general of the Women’s Network for Unity, which advocates for sex workers, said educating vulnerable groups about the risk of infection had resulted in a significant reduction of new cases.
“If they don’t understand [the risks], there will be an increase in HIV cases,” she said. “We don’t expect to eliminate HIV. We’re still going to have it in Cambodia.”
In February, the Health Ministry pushed back its target for eliminating new HIV infections—meaning fewer than 300 new cases are identified annually—from 2020 to 2025.
UNAIDS estimates 73,000 Cambodians are living with HIV, but 15,000 of them are not yet identified.
Bucking positive trends in the fight against the virus, more than 270 residents of a rural area in Battambang province tested positive for HIV in late 2014. An unlicensed medic was found to be responsible for the outbreak, having reused needles on numerous patients, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year.
Tia Phalla, vice chairman of the National AIDS Authority, said on Tuesday that 20 people in Roka commune, the center of the outbreak, had since died but that others were receiving proper treatment. “The situation right now is stable,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Phearun)