Cambodia's goal of eliminating HIV transmission rates by 2020 will largely be achieved by boosting services to at-risk segments of the population, said the head of the government centre responsible for combating the disease yesterday.
“It is our main mission to get to zero,” Mean Chhivon, director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, told the Post.
Though ambitious in scope – and relying on a dwindling pot of donor money, including the highly scrutinised Global Fund – the initiative brings together government health officials with local and international organisations.
Coming at a time when rates have fallen to 0.7 per cent, the plan will provide expanded education and treatment services to, among other at-risk groups, intravenous drug users, entertainment workers, men who have sex with men, and Cambodians who are transgender.
Basic methods of prevention will be encouraged, such as passing out more condoms to entertainment workers and organisations working to combat infection.
It also increases options for counselling, rapid testing, access to antiretroviral drugs and, in the realm of reproductive health, aims to lower the transmission rate of HIV/AIDS from mother to child.
“We will perform HIV screening among 95 per cent of pregnant women,” Chivvon said, adding that in 2011 testing was at 80 per cent.
“In 2011, screening was 80 per cent, so we’ll increase it from 80 to 95 or 97 per cent by 2015.”
Though Chivvon said the exact price of the program has yet to be determined, he estimated the annual cost at roughly $55 to $60 million.
Oum Sopheap, the executive director of Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance, said the program can’t succeed without adequate financial resources.
“I appeal to donors to continue to support this achievement of getting to zero HIV/AIDs infections,” he said.
In 1998, Cambodia’s infection rate peaked at about 1.7 per cent of the population between ages 15 and 49.
Health officials credit an early response as the reason for the decline to its current rate of 0.7 per cent.
“It’s actually doing better than other countries,” said Marie-Odile Emond, the country coordinator for UNAIDS.
“But there is still no room for complacency, while the overall prevalence has gone down, it still remains very high among high-risk groups.”