While efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS has led to a drop in cases in Cambodia, the number of women infected by their husbands has increased at an alarming rate in recent years. And according to health officials attending the National Forum on Women and HIV/AIDS at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on Wednesday, this may be more a social than a health problem.
Statistics from the National AIDS Authority show that the overall number of infected people in Cambodia decreased from 2.1 percent in 2002 to 1.9 percent a year later. But according to the Ministry of Health, 60 percent of HIV/AIDS patients were women between 2003 and 2004. Among 100 women with HIV/AIDS, 42 were housewives infected by their husbands.
Since 1997, more women than men are infected with HIV/AIDS each year, and this has received little attention, said Tia Phalla, secretary general of the National AIDS Authority. “The value of women in society and the importance of the family are being ignored,” he said.
Women are afraid of being hit by their husbands if they suggest using condoms, said Thida Khus, executive director of the Cambodian NGO Silaka. Most men get angry if their wives ask them whether they have been with other partners or sex workers when they were away from home, she said.
Reducing HIV/AIDS transmission among housewives will involve giving women greater importance in society, said Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health. If they feel valued, women will be more comfortable negotiating with their husbands and protecting themselves and their children from infection, he said.