Ahead of Tuesday’s marking of World AIDS Day, Cambodia today will commit to protecting the rights of high-risk marginal groups, the National AIDS Authority (NAA) said.
Rights groups say the health of high-risk groups – men who have sex with men, injection drug users and sex workers – often suffers because of punitive government policy.
“The discrimination they face makes them less likely to seek and receive treatment,” Teng Kunthy, secretary general of the NAA, said Sunday.
Oum Sopheap, executive director of the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance, said the underground lifestyle of injection drug users made them harder to reach. “Drug users like to live in squatter homes, so people do not usually see them. They like to hide themselves,” he said.
Sara Colm, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said government practices deny adequate treatment to marginal groups. “Urban poor who are forcibly relocated are often dumped in remote sites with no services, no jobs and inadequate healthcare. For those who are ill, the stress of being evicted and uprooted, and the squalid conditions at the relocation sites, can exacerbate their health problems,” Colm said.
Referring to the government’s relocation site for HIV-affected families evicted from Borei Keila in central Phnom Penh, Colm said: “People living with HIV in Tuol Sambo have told us that their health has got worse since they’ve moved there. Some are getting sicker, they’ve lost weight, their CD4 counts are dropping.”CD4 counts determine immune system strength.
Colm also cited extralegal detentions as increasing risk.
“People ... are swept up off the street and detained in drug rehabilitation centres. People with HIV find themselves in these centres, where they are often denied access to ARV medicines. Meanwhile, these centres have little or no capacity to treat HIV or any other serious health issues, including TB or hepatitis.”