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PM calls for HIV drugs

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said HIV/AIDS must be considered a national priority,

and has called for anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to be made available to those living

with AIDS. ARVs are used to extend the lives of those infected with the virus.

Speaking at the Second National AIDS Conference on October 2, Hun Sen said AIDS affected

all aspects of Cambodian society and warned an increasing number of people were at

risk.

"In 2010 without medicines to prolong [lives], the number of people who would

die from AIDS will increase to 230,000," he said.

Dr Tia Phalla, secretary-general of the National Aids Authority (NAA), said the PM's

comments showed government commitment at the highest level to providing ARVs. But

it was unclear how patients would pay for ARVs, even cheap generic copies from Thailand

and India costing $30 a month.

"In his closing speech [Hun Sen] said we need to look to our internal and external

resources to provide ARVs and care for people living with AIDS," Dr Phalla said.

"He said the drugs must be available. It was a good turning point for the country

in terms of HIV/AIDS."

Dr Hor Bunleng, deputy director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, said fewer than

500 Cambodians currently had access to free ARVs in the country's hospitals, and

the need "was very huge". He called on more commitment from the international

community and donors.

In a proposal submitted in late September the government requested $16 million from

the Global Fund for AIDS. That would provide free ARVs for 3,000 patients over five

years and pay for doctors to be trained in the proper use of the drugs. Cambodia

recently received $15 million for care and prevention programs over the next three

years.

Dr Nuth Sokhom, permanent vice-chair of the NAA, said the authority would try to

convince the government to give free ARVs to the poor, but said it was unclear at

this stage whether it would foot the bill.

"If [Hun Sen] said he is able to increase the money from the government for

ARVs we would be very pleased, but he didn't say that," Dr Sokhom said. "But

I am still pleased, because he showed he is very committed to HIV/AIDS programs."

Geeta Sethi, country program advisor at UNAIDS, said it was very encouraging the

government was looking at ways to provide drugs. However she warned that drugs were

only a small part of the response, and that more comprehensive care and counseling

were required.

The Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS Network has run a lobbying campaign calling

for increased and affordable access to ARVs. Experts said that had played a significant

role in winning government support for ARVs.

A 2002 government survey revealed that 157,000 Cambodians are living with HIV/AIDS,

which equates to 2.6 percent of the adult population.

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