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HIV successes under threat

HIV successes under threat

Cambodia's successes in combating HIV/AIDS may be undermined by an over-reliance on funding from foreign donors, according to a new report by local and international health experts.

The report, released yesterday, warns that foreign donors – who now fund about 90 percent of the more than US$50 million per year allocated to the country’s HIV/AIDS programmes – are likely to begin scaling back assistance in the near future.

The authors of the report call on the government to increase its own funding for such programmes, warning that failure to do so could result in a resurgence of the disease.

The report, written by Cambodian experts working closely with the United States-based Results for Development Institute, notes that the Kingdom has scored a “major success” in reducing the number of new HIV infections and providing access to treatment for a large percentage of the infected population.

The number of new HIV infections in Cambodia has dropped from an estimated 15,500 per year during the peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s, to about 2,100 last year, according to figures in the report.

And about 93 percent of Cambodia’s 33,500 eligible AIDS patients were receiving antiretroviral drugs as of October last year.

“Despite these successes, Cambodia still has a serious and potentially devastating epidemic,” warns the report, which notes that scaling down prevention services could result in an increase in infection rates.

Funding shortfalls

The report notes that donors’ financial commitments to Cambodia’s HIV and AIDS programmes are “expected to diminish”, in part because of the Kingdom’s successes in reversing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and making it a less urgent priority.

It predicts that the proportion of funding for HIV/AIDS programmes coming from foreign donors will decrease by between 50 and 90 percent over the next two decades.

“Without any additional resources from the Cambodian government, the annual gap [in funding for programmes] would vary between $9 million (assuming donors scale-back gradually), and $21 million (assuming donors scale-back rapidly),” the report states.

The report concludes that the government will have to increase its own contributions to the HIV/AIDS program to make up the shortfall.

Teng Kunthy, secretary general of the National AIDS Authority, said Cambodia was currently looking at a shortfall of about $238 million in funding for HIV/AIDS programmes over the next four years.

“Prevention and control of AIDS will not be realised if Cambodia lacks the budget,” he said.

Cheam Yeap, the chief of the National Assembly’s Finance and Banking Committee, noted that the health sector was set to receive a significant increase under the national budget for 2011.

“The programme to [fight] HIV/AIDS is under the responsibility of the Health Ministry and we make health a priority,” he said. “We try to increase the budget for the health ministry from year to year and we will follow up on all their practices.”

Mean Chhi Vun, director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, which contributed to the study, said the report had been presented to parliamentarians and development partners at a meeting in Phnom Penh yesterday and would be “very, very useful” in informing policy.

The study was conducted in conjunction with an international project called aids2031, which aims to assess long-term strategies to combat HIV/AIDS around the world. The year 2031 will mark the 50-year anniversary of the discovery of AIDS.

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