French virologist Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, winner of a Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying HIV as the cause of AIDS during the 1980s, holds a soft spot for Cambodia.
“My relationship with Cambodia has been ongoing for the last 20 years,” Barre-Sinoussi said with a smile.
Speaking to the Post on the sidelines of a conference on communicable diseases held in the capital this week, Barre-Sinoussi highlighted the importance of increasing patient access to life-saving treatment and encouraging young Cambodians to pursue a career in medical research and clinical work.
“I spoke with students at the University of Health Sciences [this week] because I wanted to motivate them to become clinical specialists and researchers. It’s nice if you want to make money and open a private consultation, but why not work to link researchers and clinical specialists to benefit humanity as a whole,” she said.
“If a dialogue between clinicians and researchers had not been under way in the 1980s for the first time, we would never have linked HIV to AIDS when we did.”
Barre-Sinoussi is head of the Retroviral Infection Control Unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where she has worked since the 1970s.
The extent to which Cambodia had responded to its HIV problem is something the country should be proud of, she said.
“This health system was nothing after the war and has now become something worth talking about.
“Something like 90 per cent of [HIV/AIDS] patients are receiving treatment and that’s a significant number for this part of the world,” Barre-Sinoussi said, while adding that there is still plenty of work to be done.
UNAIDS country director Marie-Odile Emond said Cambodia’s coverage rate for treatment is well above the regional rate.
“Cambodia has reached a much higher level at about 80 per cent and with [a] relatively good retention rate,” she wrote in an email.