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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Push to combat AIDS stigma

Push to combat AIDS stigma

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Pov Sophary, 28, a HIV positive patient sits on a bed at the Khmer-Soviet Hospital in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. People across the globe will observe World AIDS Day today.

As HIV/AIDS transformed from a “life-threatening emergency” to a “manageable chronic disease”, the government’s focus had shifted to include combating workplace and social discrimination against sufferers, officials said yesterday.

More than 650 representatives from the government, the military, the United Nations and civil-society organisations will attend a high-level meeting today, World AIDS Day, to focus on achieving the “Three Zeros”.

The “Three Zeros” – the theme for combating HIV/AIDS from 2011 to 2015 – were zero new infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination, National AIDS Authority secretary-general Teng Kunthy told the Post yesterday.

“To achieve this, it is vital we have good co-operation between the government, civil society and NGOs,” he said.

“Cambodia is on the way to achieving the ‘Three Zeros’, but there is still a long way to go.”

It is estimated that nine out of 10 people living with HIV/AIDS are employed and of those, entertainment workers  – a category that includes those working in karaoke and massage parlours, among other occupations – in the Kingdom are identified by the NAA as an increasingly at-risk group for new infections and discrimination.

The International Labour Organisation in Cambodia yesterday awarded 102 enterprises for successful implementation of HIV/AIDS guidelines in the workplace.

Although a few entertainment establishments were among the awardees, ILO liaison officer Undraa Suren highlighted the need for further intervention programs to be established at such venues.

Entertainment workers were among the most vulnerable groups to the epidemic of HIV in Cambodia, she said.

A reluctance to implement 100 per cent condom use in entertainment venues was a key driver of this vulnerability, HIV/AIDS Co-ordinating Committee representative Channy Cheng said.

“You hear all the time about arrests of the massage [parlour] owners, and police used condoms as evidence against them,” he said. “So there is a reluctance by the owners and the entertainment workers to use condoms, which makes them more at risk of new infections.”

Discrimination against sufferers of HIV/AIDS was also a problem in the health sector, Channy Cheng added. “Often [health workers] will refuse to treat them, or will make them a low priority,” he said.

Last year, Cambodia received a Millennium Development Goal award for contributing to a decline in HIV prevalence and achieving the universal access target for anti-retroviral treatment, with over 80 per cent of adults and children in need receiving treatment.

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