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Policy shift on HIV vital: NGO

HEALTH NGO workers this week said they doubted the government would be able to meet its new goal of eradicating mother-to-child transmission of the virus that causes AIDS by 2020 in the absence of substantive policy changes.

Dr Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, said Sunday that the government had adopted the goal “late this year”.

There is limited data on mother-to-child transmission in the Kingdom, though Mean Chhi Vun noted that approximately 3,500 of the more than 36,000 patients receiving HIV/AIDS treatment as of September were children, most of whom contracted the virus from their mothers.

The Ministry of Health will likely funnel more money towards the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in future budgets, Mean Chhi Vun said, adding that he did not know how much would be allocated.

He said new policies designed to make the goal attainable would go into effect in mid-2010. Asked what those new policies were, he said the government would encourage pregnant women to take blood tests and, if they test positive for HIV, undergo antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Expanding ART for HIV-positive pregnant women is already a target under the Millennium Development Goal pertaining to AIDS.

Cambodia has aimed to increase the percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women “receiving a complete course of antiretroviral prophylaxis to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission” from a 2002 baseline of 2.7 percent to 50 percent in 2015.

Mey Sovannara, communication and advocacy coordinator for the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance, said he believed the new goal could be met, but only with new government-led policies, including those that would increase the effectiveness of provincial health centres.

“The government has to be the leader on this,” he said. “If the government does not have a strong commitment to this, then it will be a failure.”

Chan Theary, executive director of the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance, echoed this idea, saying, “Whether this is realistic or not depends
on the ministry’s commitment, and its partners’ ability to actually do this work.”

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