Water Festival Officials Tackle Sexually Transmitted Diseases

As racers and visitors begin pouring into Phnom Penh for the coming Water Festival, government officials and NGOs are putting into effect a multipronged approach to tackle one of the more difficult public health issues to coincide with the celebration: sexually transmitted diseases.

Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, said yesterday that in preparation for the three-day festival, which starts Sunday, his authorities had been shutting down brothels and sweeping up sex workers. On Wednesday alone, Daun Penh officials collected 17 female sex workers along with five male customers, he said. The men were re­leased after a warning at the district police office while the alleged prostitutes are still with the Department of Social Affairs.

“We are still arranging the measures to crack down on brothels that pretend to be coffee and massage shops,” Mr Penhvuth said. “We will close all the brothels before the water festival comes.”

Local authorities and NGO workers say the high levels of human traffic flowing into the capital for the festival every year include groups of un­educated men from the pro­vinces, eager to take advantage of the festive atmosphere.

“From our past experience, the man tries to enjoy himself, looks for entertainment workers in order to have fun,” said Dan Bora Pich, communications director of Population Services International. “The most risky thing is if they don’t protect themselves—they can go back [home] and spread diseases.”

This year, about 1,000 volunteers coordinated by PSI, the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Com­mit­tee and the Na­tional AIDS Authority will hand out about 250,000 condoms. At least 20 hot­spots—places, including brothels, where customers and prostitutes ga­ther—will be targeted for distribution.

And today, all major Khmer news outlets and television channels are expected to attend a Club of Cam­bodian Journalists conference, sponsored by the HIV/AIDS NGO Al­liance on “Unsafe Sex and Im­proper Condom Use.” Among the topics to be covered is the role of media in HIV prevention.

“We need to raise awareness because hundreds of thousands, millions, will come here. The government is focusing on (A)-H1N1, but many people are coming to the city to have sex,” said Chhay Sophal, CCJ board director. “We want to show the TV channels and all the local leading newspapers how to give outreach information.”


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