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A health official checks a blood sample from a villager during a screening for HIV in Kandal province in February last year.
A health official checks a blood sample from a villager during a screening for HIV in Kandal province in February last year. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Huge gains in HIV fight: UN

Cambodia is one of only seven countries worldwide to have made such significant strides towards achieving the highly ambitious “90-90-90” anti-HIV/AIDS target by 2020, according to a UNAIDS report released yesterday.

However, despite the inarguably significant progress, experts expressed concern over the Kingdom’s ability to sustain the progress in the face of continuous funding cuts from external donors.

The 90-90-90 target refers to 90 percent of HIV-positive people knowing their status; 90 percent of those people accessing treatment; and 90 percent of people on treatment being virally suppressed, meaning the virus is almost undetectable and the chances of HIV transmission are minimal, according to the report.

The report also found that Cambodia, the scene of a rapidly growing epidemic 20 years ago, now has the highest HIV treatment coverage rate in Asia and the Pacific, with about 80 percent of the estimated 71,000 people living with HIV accessing antiretroviral therapy.

Dr Vladanka Andreeva, the new country director for UNAIDS in Cambodia, said the country has come a long way and is shoulder-to-shoulder with developed countries in terms of the kind of strides it has made.

“I think the greatest challenge for Cambodia is how to sustain these achievements,” she said, adding that donors have been reducing their contributions in recent years. “That trend will continue and there’s a need for Cambodia to step up.”

In 2015, a total of $46.9 million was spent on national HIV/AIDS response in Cambodia, with the government contributing $8.2 million, or 17 percent of the overall spending.

Ly Penh Sun, director of the Health Ministry’s National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control, said since 2010, Cambodia began to lose roughly about $3 million to $4 million every year in anti-HIV/AIDS funding.
He maintained “the government’s will is very strong” in this area, but the country will still require outside support.

“We accept a transition plan, but not very sharp.”

Of the 90-90-90 targets, he said that roughly an 82 to 83 percent of positive Cambodians know their HIV status, while 97 percent of people who know their status are accessing treatment and 81 percent of people who are on treatment are virally suppressed.

Chum Sopha, executive director for the NGO Health and Development Alliance, said NGOs are “worried” about anti-HIV/AIDS funding decreases, which also results in less involvement from civil society.

Less involvement from civil society means less intervention at the community level, and reduced services, such as counselling, home care and outreach to key populations, like sex workers, Sopha said.

“My concern is the NGO’s activities, because they are at the grassroots,” he said.

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