Three large organisations working in the fields of HIV/AIDS – the National AIDS Authority (NAA), the Ministry of Health’s National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS), and UNAIDS – commended Cambodia’s ongoing treatment and services, but called for increased efforts in three areas.

They aim to lower the number of new male HIV infections, end to mother-to-child transmissions and increase services for HIV-positive children.

On April 5, they issued a joint press release with the Kingdom’s latest HIV estimates.

“Current HIV estimates point to Cambodia’s continued commendable treatment services and results,” it began.

“However, targeted efforts and investments are required to reduce new infections among men, eliminate mother-to-child transmission and reach children living with HIV,”” it added.

NAA chair Ieng Mouly said Cambodia has made strong progress toward ending the AIDS epidemic, but inequalities are still stalling progress.

“These updated HIV estimates equip us to better understand the impact that gender and age-related inequalities, inequalities faced by key populations, and inequalities between children and adults have had on the national HIV response,” he added.

According to the release, by the end of 2022, approximately 76,000 people were living with HIV (PLHIV), 74,000 of them were adults aged 15 and older, with the remainder children.

“Eighty-six per cent of all PLHIV were aware of their HIV status,” it estimated.

It also described Cambodia’s achievements in attaining the highest linkage to treatment services with high levels of viral suppression rates among PLHIV as “exemplary”.

As of December last year, 64,931 PLHIV were accessing anti-retroviral therapy, which translated to 99 per cent of people who were aware of their status. Almost all of them were virally suppressed.

“One clear strength of the Cambodian HIV response is its ability to link people to treatment services once they have been diagnosed, and retain them on treatment. This maximises the benefits of people with an undetectable viral load who then are unable to transmit HIV,” said NCHADS director Ouk Vichea.

“Now we must work to reach those not accessing testing services by scaling up approaches such as community-based and self-testing,” he added.

The press release estimated that there were 1, 400 new HIV infections in 2022, which translates to about four people becoming infected each day. New infections have reduced by 91 per cent since the peak of the HIV epidemic in 1996, but the pace of decline has been slowing down, with only a 33 per cent reduction as compared to 2010.

“Two critical concerns are the ongoing cases of HIV transmission to babies as well as the low service access for children living with HIV,” it added.

One in 10 pregnant women living with HIV did not access prevention of mother-to-child treatment services last year.

The country’s transmission rate from mothers to children remains high at almost 10 per cent. Additionally, just 59 per cent of children living with HIV have been diagnosed and were receiving treatment in 2022.

“New HIV estimates indicate that an increasing proportion of new HIV infections are among men and boys; they accounted for 79 percent all new HIV infections in 2022,” it added.

The release said that by population, 83 per cent of total new HIV infections are among key populations – female entertainment workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender women, people who use and inject drugs – and their sexual partners.

“While HIV infections have decreased significantly among women, they are increasing among men, and particularly young gay men,” said Patricia Ongpin, country director for UNAIDS Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.

“To bend the curve of new HIV infections, we need focused interventions to increase HIV knowledge as well as access to prevention and testing services for young key populations. We need to explore new ways of working to provide HIV related services to those not yet reached,” she added.

“The latest data tell us we must prioritise elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission urgently while working to ensure that children who are infected are not left behind,” Ongpin said.

The Cambodian policy to eliminate AIDS includes a raft of measures such as increased national investment, deepened community engagement and international cooperation to close prevention gaps, as well as increased access to social security and healthcare for vulnerable people.

“The new data will help fine-tune these approaches, ensuring resources and services are tailored and targeted to those who need them most,” it added.