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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hill-tribes people slow to heed danger of HIV/AIDS

Hill-tribes people slow to heed danger of HIV/AIDS

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Chaey, left, and his wife Ory, who live in a rural northeastern village, now care for their two grandchildren after losing both their son and their daughter to AIDS.

Rural health officials say HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in the northeast of Cambodia.

According to officials in Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces, the virus is arriving

along with the many migrants from elsewhere in the country and the region's ethnic

minorities lack information about the disease and how to avoid it.

Sim Sonlay, chief of the health office at Ratanakkiri, said fewer than 50 percent

of people in the province had an adequate understanding of HIV/AIDS infection. Some

did not believe what they were told about it, as they had never seen the disease

before.

"We always raise our concerns at meetings about the low understanding hill-tribe

people have of HIV/AIDS," Sonlay said. "Many people have migrated from

other provinces to Ratanakkiri for business or farming and we do not know whether

these people might be infected with HIV/AIDS."

Sonlay said about 400 people had come for blood tests since the middle of 2005; 21

tested HIV-positive, and some of those were hill-tribe people.

Nha Rang Chan, third deputy governor of Mondulkiri, said 60 percent of people in

that province lacked an understanding of HIV/AIDS, how to prevent it or even how

to use a condom.

Rang Chan said the authorities had tried to educate people about the spreading of

HIV/AIDS infection, but it was difficult as most people lived in remote areas, did

not have televisions or radios, and were uneducated.

"I am concerned about HIV/AIDS infection among the people in my province - people

in town are aware of the need for protection but the ethnic minorities are ashamed

of speaking about condoms," said Rang Chan, who is also provincial chairman

of the National AIDS Authority.

Rang Chan and Sonlay said neither Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) nor the Anti-Retroviral

Virus (ARV) drug were available yet in Mondulkiri or Ratanakkiri.

Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD

(NCHADS), said there were no statistics about HIV/AIDS infection among ethnic minorities

in the northeastern provinces, though the Ministry of Health (MoH) was considering

a survey soon.

Chhi Vun said in mid-2006 MoH and NCHADS would open ART centers in Stung Treng and

Ratanakkiri provinces so that people living with HIV/AIDS in the northeast provinces

would have access to ARV drugs.

There are 32 ART centers operating in Cambodia now, and 10 more will be opened in

2006. About 11,000 people living with HIV/AIDS have received ARV drugs since they

became available in 2001; 990 of them are the children. There are 110 centers that

offer free counseling and testing.

With an estimated HIV prevalence in 2003 of 1.9 percent among adults (aged 15 to

49 years) Cambodia is the country most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia

Pacific region. Since the first case of HIV infection was detected in 1991, it is

estimated that Cambodia, with a population of 13 million, now has about 123,000 people

living with HIV/AIDS.

On December 22, the Cambodian Human Rights and HIV/AIDS Network issued a report highlighting

over two years of data collection by its members. The data gave a snapshot of the

extent of human rights abuse reported by network members from August 1, 2003 to September

30, 2005 in 17 cities and provinces. It showed there had been 176 cases of HIV/AIDS-related

discrimination reported in that period.

The Law on the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS, adopted by the National Assembly

in June 2002, prohibits discrimination against a person based on the knowledge or

suspicion that the person, or a member of their family, has HIV/AIDS. Discrimination

is prohibited in employment, education, the right to seek public office, and by providers

of health care services and other services such as credit and insurance. It is also

against the law to restrict a person's freedom of movement or place of residence.

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