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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sex workers stand firm on Bill Gates drug trial

Sex workers stand firm on Bill Gates drug trial

The Cambodian prostitutes' collective, Women's Network for Unity (WNU), is holding

out for a 30-to-40 year guarantee against negative side-effects for the 960 participants

in a proposed field trial of the HIV protection drug, Tenofovir.

At a media conference on Tuesday, June 15, the organization said it had not received

any response to its previous demand.

The trial, funded by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, hopes to find answers to whether

or not the drug can prevent HIV infection.

At the Ministry of Health's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually

Transmitted Infections (NCHADS), which is responsible for the project, research officer

Khol Vohith said that although the center could only guarantee free health care during

the duration of the year-long trial, he believed that other organizations would step

in after that.

But a spokesman for WNU doubted that there would be any such help available. "There

are 18 to 20 women being raped every day, but it is very difficult to find help for

them," he said.

WNU director Keo Tha claimed that some organizations had already tried to persuade

sex workers to take part in the trial. The name of the drug had not been mentioned,

only that it would protect them from getting HIV.

Vohith denied that any NCHADS staff had been talking to sex workers about the trial.

However, he said trained staff in NCHADS uniforms would start informing participants

within five months.

Participants in the project must understand how the drug works, Vohith said. "If

they still do not understand it after we have explained it many times, we will not

take that person into the trial. Anyway, the person must volunteer, without any pressure

from other organizations or people."

Vohith said Cambodia was chosen for the test because it has the highest HIV infection

rate in Southeast Asia. There will be similar tests in the African countries of Cameroon,

Ghana and Nigeria.

Tenofovir is already being used throughout the world by patients infected by HIV.

The known side-effects from that use include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.



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