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HIV/Aids infection rates down

HIV/Aids infection rates down

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But virtually no data exists on the number of people dying each year from Aids, raising questions about Cambodia’s success in dealing with one of its worst health epidemics

AFP

An HIV-positive former sex worker in her house in a Tonle Bassac slum.

THE percentage of Cambodia's adult population infected with HIV fell again this year and is expected to half by 2012, according to research conducted by the National Center for HIV/Aids Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS). But less than half of those currently infected have access to anti-retroviral drugs and no figures have been released this year for AIDS deaths, which increased sharply at the last count.

According to NCHADS statistics, just 1,330 people contracted HIV in 2006, a figure officials expect to drop to 900 in 2008 and 460 in 2012. Aids prevalence among high-risk groups such as sex workers is down.

"The HIV prevalence among female sex workers declined from 23.4 percent in 2003 to 14.7 percent in 2006," said NCHADS Director Mean Chhi Vun, at a conference Friday.

NCHADS estimates that HIV/Aids prevalence among the general population aged 15-49 has dropped to 0.9 percent - a total of less than one person per 100. They say that between 67,000 and 100,000 people in the country live with HIV, of which some 30,000 receive the proper medicine.

NCHADS officials said that no data was available on the number of Aids deaths in the Kingdom in 2006, but 2002 NCHADS figures indicated that Aids deaths were soaring: from 2000 to 2002 they increased by 18,000 to 78,600.

Moreover, despite the declining prevalence rate, HIV/Aids infection rates are still high in regional terms. According to a 2008 UNAIDS report, Cambodia has the second highest prevalence rate among South Asian countries and ASEAN countries.

War not yet won

Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state in the Ministry of Health, told the conference that despite the drop in infection rates, the war against HIV/Aids was not yet won. "We have to go on fighting HIV/Aids," Mam Bun Heng said.

Keo Tha, executive director of the Women's Network for Unity, which has worked with over 5,000 sex workers across eight provinces, applauded the decline in infection rates, saying that sex workers were the group most likely to become HIV-positive.

She said that sex workers are now becoming aware that using condoms with their clients is a dependable way of preventing the spread of the virus.

But she said some sex workers still did not care about using condoms and had many sex partners per day so they could earn more money.

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