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Aids fight must focus on youth

Aids fight must focus on youth

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081202_01.jpg

Children under 15 seen as high-risk, officials say, but understanding of HIV increasing

Photo by:
Heng Chivoan

Children wave Cambodian flags Monday at a ceremony in Hun Sen Park to mark World Aids Day.

ONE thousand out of every 7,400 people infected with HIV each dayaround the world are 15 or younger, and in Cambodia, where more than a third of the population is under the age of 25, this is a daunting statistic for health officials trying to keep the disease in check, officials said Monday.

"Cambodia really must develop more initiatives to protect and fight against Aids as this high-risk population grows up," said Alice Levisay, Cambodia representative of the United Nations Population Fund, at a ceremony marking World Aids Day.

Cambodia, which has more than halved its infection rate since 1997 to 0.9 percent, is lauded as a success story for its fight against HIV/Aids.

But officials said Monday that while the rate of infection has been brought under control overall, the disease was rapidly spreading to other, more isolated groups of people, where infection rates could be many times higher than the average.

"We are concerned about gays, drug users, sex workers and other vulnerable people," said Ly Cheng Huy, president of the HIV/Aids Coordinating Committee.

Stigmatising these high-risk groups and pushing them further away from prevention and treatment programs was also a continuing problem, officials said.

But despite this, health authorities  said the basic understanding of HIV/Aids and its spread was rising among Cambodians, helping to keep the disease at bay.

Access to anti-retroviral drugs was also high, with some 70 percent of those infected with the disease able to access free health care, said Teng Kunthy, secretary general of the National Aids Authority.

According to World Health Organisation figures, there were 33.2 million people suffering from Aids worldwide in 2007. Last year 2.1 million people died from the disease. 

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