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AIDS still an issue, NGOs say

AIDS still an issue, NGOs say

CAMBODIA has shown success in reducing overall rates of HIV/AIDS, but infection rates among sex workers, injection drug users and gay men remain troubling, government and NGO officials warned Thursday.

Figures from the National Aids Authority (NAA) suggest the infection rate among injection drug users stands at 24.4 percent. The infection rate for men who have sex with men is pegged at 5.4 percent, NAA officials said Thursday at a press conference ahead of World Aids Day on Tuesday.

Teng Kunthy, the NAA’s secretary general, said authorities were troubled by an apparent rise in so-called “entertainment clubs” that have become an alternative to traditional brothels.

“We are worried when there are increases of entertainment clubs,” Teng Kunthy said.

Up to 20 percent of women working at the clubs have sex with customers, he said. However, police crackdowns on sex workers have not helped infection rates, one advocate said.

Sou Sotheavy, director of the Cambodian Network for Men’s and Women’s Development, said sex workers are frequently targeted for arrest, pushing them to unsafe sex.

“They dare not keep a condom in their pocket because they are afraid that police will accuse them of being sex workers,” said Sou Sotheavy.

However, officials note that Cambodia has been relatively successful in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. The overall infection rate has dropped from 2 percent in 1998 to 0.9 percent in 2006, Teng Kunthy said.

There are an estimated 71,100 adults and children infected with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia today, according to government data.

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