THE Ministry of Education has begun training primary school teachers in 12 provinces to provide HIV/AIDS prevention education to their students, ministry and health officials said Monday, adding that this age group, while not immediately vulnerable to the disease, needed to be aware of its dangers.
Primary school students "are a group of people we have to pay attention to because they ... will be the backbone of the nation", said Dr Mean Chhi Vun, the director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs.
Cambodia has made huge strides in tackling an HIV/AIDS epidemic that had infected some 3 percent of adults by the late 1990s. Partially through prevention programs, the Kingdom has reduced its HIV prevalence rate to roughly 0.8 percent of adults, according to the UNAIDS website.
But some health officials warn that young people are becoming increasingly at risk, as outreach activities target mainly commercial sex workers and their clients, rather than pass the safe-sex message onto youth.
HIV/AIDS education programs are already in place for secondary school students, and these are being used as a model for this newest effort, said Pen Saroeun, director of the Education Ministry's School Health Department.
"We used to do HIV/AIDS education at secondary schools and it succeeded; that's why we have turned to primary school education," he said, adding that many students drop out before reaching secondary school.
"We will teach them basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and life skills such as negotiation skills, how to say ‘no', goal setting, and how to provide care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS," he said.
Pen Saroeun said that in 2008 the ministry spent more than US$100,000 on HIV/AIDS education. They plan to double that this year with additional funding from UN Population Fund.
"If we are successful in those 12 provinces, then we will do it in the other provinces."