WHO Says HIV Transmission Could Be Eradicated by 2020

Cambodia is on track to reach its ambitious goal of having zero new HIV transmissions in less than seven years, the government and the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

“Having reviewed available data, documents and reports and carried out on-site observations and interviews, the Review of the National Health Sector Response to HIV concluded that Cambodia was on track moving towards the ambitious goal of eliminating new HIV infections in the country by 2020,” professor Daniel Tarantola, who led the review team, said in a statement.

Health officials and experts on Friday, however, admitted that the goal was highly ambitious and depended on continuing commitment and donor support.

“It’s difficult, but it’s possible, if there is continuing contribution from Cambodia and the international community, and some new strategies to reach the goal,” said Sin Somuny, executive director of Medicam, an umbrella organization for health NGOs.

Dr. Oum Sopheap, executive director for local NGO Khana, which works to combat HIV/ AIDS, said the goal was achievable as long as the work being done now to eradicate the disease from Cam­bodia continued.

“I think the goal is realistic, if we can keep the momentum we have now, we can get there,” he said.

Despite the optimism among health workers, the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS among drug users and sex workers remains high in Cambodia.

For the general public, the HIV prevalence rate is down to about 0.7 percent, but for entertainment workers and men who have sex with men (MSM), the prevalence rate is about 12 percent, while for injecting drug users the rate remains very high at 25 percent.

While the number of new infections was about 15,500 per year in the 1990s, only 1,000 new transmissions were recorded in 2011, according to the WHO.

“The top priority are entertainment workers, and second is MSM and transgender, then drug users who share a needle,” said Dr. Sopheap, adding that a lot of outreach is being done to teach high risk groups about the transmission of the disease.

Until early this year, only HIV-positive patients with a very low CD4 count—cells that activate the immune system—were treated with anti-retroviral drugs. International research suggests that drugs should also be administered to patients with a higher and relatively normal CD4 count.

“Early this year, we also started to treat patients with a [higher] CD4 count,” Dr. Sopheap said.

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