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Deadly myths which help spread Aids

Deadly myths which help spread Aids

Moeun Chhean Nariddh explores some of the misconceptions surrounding the

disease as the latest figures are released.

One evening I overheard a

revealing chat between a young HIV positive man and his friend.

He told his

friend: "My Aids is gone and my swollen neck is also disappearing, there's no

such disease as Aids, it's just the worst state of syphilis."

He said he

had spent $1,500 on 30 sorts of drugs he had taken to cure the

illness.

Dr Richard Renas, WHO's Technical Officer for the Global Program

on Aids, said this is just one of the many myths about Aids in the country. "The

man's $1,500 expenditure was wasted, he was not cured from the

treatment."

He spoke as new figures from the Pasteur Institute of Phnom

Penh showed nine of 102 people were tested HIV positive in January 1994, two of

55 in February and 12 of 92 people in March.

Kruy Sun Lay, the Acting

Director of the Institute said 73 percent of these HIV positive patients were

men between the ages of 20 and 40, half of whom are married, 7.3 percent were

women, mostly prostitutes.

Dr Tea Phala, head of the National Aids

Committee, said: "People feel terrible accepting the disease has come into their

community, so instead they try to adapt their beliefs to the situation -

deluding themselves it is just a kind of latent syphilis and not a new

disease.

"People believe syphilis can be cured and therefore that Aids

can be cured."

According to the WHO figures, as of March a total of 382

people in Cambodia have been reported as being HIV positive, the first were

found in 1991.

The National Aids Program estimates between 2,000-4,000

Cambodians may be HIV positive.

Pharmacist Tea Soky, Deputy Director of

National Blood Transfusion Center, said she expected the number of HIV patients

found among blood donors will double this year to about 4 percent.

In

1992, small scale surveys identified the rate of HIV in patients with STDs at

4.5 per cent, and the rate amongst commercial sex workers was 9.2 per cent.

Dr Phala says another misconception people have is they think the

information on the Aids problem is mainly just propaganda put out by condom

producers to socially market their products.

He added: "The other major

problem is that people do not like to give up behavior they enjoyed in the past

which included having many partners, or having sex with prostitutes without

condoms."

Dr Renas says a further common myth is that HIV can be

transmitted by mosquitoes.

He explained Aids or Acquired Immune

Deficiency Syndrome is a condition where the immune system is so damaged it can

not protect the body from bacteria, germs, viruses and other threats.

Dr

Renas said other myths abound: healthy people do not have HIV; there is a cure

for Aids and that you can get the disease only from sex workers.

Dr

Phala said Cambodians still think Aids is not a problem here and only affects

other countries.

"The epidemic has just came to Cambodia so it is

difficult to find the people with the symptoms to come and show they are

infected with HIV - unlike in other countries where people are willing to do so.

"Through health education we can make people aware and improve their

knowledge, but changing beliefs and practices is difficult. A person may know

and understand but still not believe."

Ung Kim Sour, Redd Barna's Aids

Program Officer, said such clinging to old beliefs is consistent with a Khmer

saying: "They will drop their tears just when they see the coffin."

Dr

Phala agrees that education is the key to beating the Aids threat. But he added:

"The job is hard because it needs a lot of money. To educate a person properly

requires a dollar per year in expenditure, so for a population of nine million

we need $9 million for the whole program, far more than we have."

Besides

education programs, the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the World Health

Organization and the British Volunteer Service Overseas has set up a clinic in

Phnom Penh's red light district of Toul Kok.

Set up in June 1993 the Toul

Kok Community Dike Clinic provides free medical services and is designed to

especially cater to the needs of commercial sex workers.

Dr Ouk

Vongvathiny, chief of the clinic, said on Tuesday evenings she briefs ten to 15

brothel owners and prostitutes on Aids.

According to her survey, she

estimates that only 40 percent of the customers use condoms, but the girls can

persuade up to 60 per cent to use them.

She says: "Condom usage has

increased from 20 to 30 percent figure when I arrived at Toul Kok in June

1993.

"However, some men, especially when they are drunk, never use

condoms and threaten not to pay the girl if she insists on them wearing a

condom."

"Many school boys come as a group to have sex with prostitutes.

According to many girls most young men do not use condoms."

Dr

Vongvathiny said the first big step was to educate the brothel owners because

they could then pass on the message to their girls. "If we talk to an owner it

is like talking to seven or eight girls."

But she said some brothel

owners are not very cooperative and try to force their girls to accept the

situation as they are prostitutes.

"Many brothel owners tell their girls

the old Khmer saying 'being a pig, you must not be afraid of hot water', meaning

they must not be afraid of Aids."

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