ISOLATION OF PEOPLE LIVING WITH OR AFFECTED BY HIV IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE.
A World AIDS Day ceremony held Tuesday in Phnom Penh became a de facto debate over Cambodia’s HIV/AIDS policies after first lady and head of the Cambodian Red Cross Bun Rany used her speech to rebut claims made by a UN official.
Alice Levisay, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) country director, said that despite progress in lowering HIV prevalence, Cambodia was “falling behind on targets for preventing mother-to-child transmission and protecting the health of orphans and vulnerable children.”
Levisay added: “Intensified and accelerated efforts must be made to eliminate mother-to-child transmission. One out of seven children aged 0-17 years is either an orphan or vulnerable due to the chronic illness of a parent. Orphans should not be addressed in isolation.”
Levisay reserved her strongest comments for the relocation community of Tuol Sambo. “Isolation of people living with or affected by HIV is never acceptable, and we must ensure that situations like Borei Keila and Tuol Sambo do not happen again,” she said. “Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV must be addressed with determination, and this must be a cornerstone of the national response. This is of particular importance when providing prevention, care and treatment service to people living with HIV.”
In June and July, more than 60 HIV-positive patients from 40 families were relocated from Borei Keila, a central Phnom Penh community, to a site in Dangkor district’s Tuol Sambo village. The move prompted a widespread outcry from rights groups concerned about the oppressive heat, lack of adequate healthcare and food, and limited job prospects at the site, which some have called a de facto AIDS colony.
Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany denied that the families had been isolated. “We care about the people of Tuol Sambo like normal people. We do not isolate them or put them aside. In Cambodia, there are no AIDS people creating an AIDS colony,” she said, insisting the relocation was a gesture of compassion.
Bun Rany said the government was limited in its response to the Borei Keila problem because the site was sold to a private company. “It was difficult. We wanted them to have houses [at Borei Keila], but it was the company’s land development,” she said, adding that, in general, “discrimination against HIV-positive people has been greatly reduced.”