The National AIDS Authority (NAA) took Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to educate the general public about HIV/AIDS prevention, especially among young people and those with same-sex partners.

NAA chairman Ieng Moly said on February 14 that Cambodia had largely succeeded in preventing the spread of HIV. And in the Asia-Pacific region, the Kingdom is in the lead of providing services and treatment for people living with HIV, when compared to Indonesia, China and Thailand.

He called on youths, especially men who have sex with men (MSM), to protect against HIV on Valentine’s Day, as the number of people in same-sex relationships is on the rise. He said that in 2010, there were an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 openly MSM in the Kingdom, but now there are nearly 100,000.

“We must work hard to prevent the further spread of HIV and must reduce it. There are currently nearly 100,000 people who are not receiving treatment. This constitutes a real risk to our society,” he said.

“[We] still carry the risk because the spread of HIV can easily take place without proper protection. This is a day when we remind everyone to be careful. We do not ban anyone from love. But we must be careful to protect ourselves from infection,” he added.

This is the first public Valentine’s Day campaign on HIV that the NAA has conducted since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Moly said NAA is facing challenges in running this awareness campaign because this work is difficult to carry out online.

Another obstacle is that the NAA does not want to provide several months’ worth of medicine to HIV patients because storing it at their homes can affect its quality. If a patient has to collect the medicine every month, they increased their risk of exposure to Covid-19, however.

NAA vice-chairman Tea Phalla also said on February 14 that those with same-sex partners should not think that other people are discriminating against them through this campaign.

“We do not want Valentine’s Day to cause an HIV infection and put anyone in a situation where they must to take life-prolonging medication to live,” he said, adding that each year there are 1,100 people infected with HIV, of which 53 per cent are MSM.

“I want this Valentine’s Day to be a day that encourages us to protect ourselves. We must commit to this, not just for today, but every day,” he added.