Members of the armed forces are at a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, military
representatives told participants at the Second National AIDS Conference in Phnom
Penh on October 1. They likened the epidemic to a war which needs to be fought with
condoms and education programs.
Keo Rachna, HIV/AIDS officer for the army, said that soldiers carried spades to dig
trenches to protect themselves, but commanders should instead encourage them to carry
"This war should disappear from Cambodia," said Rachna. "One bullet
in the war kills one person, but if a man gets HIV it spreads to many people and
However, he said, it was clear that some were reluctant to use condoms.
"Military [personnel] say they are not afraid of HIV, and they are afraid of
not having sex. The social pressures to be masculine are strong."
Dr Song Ngak, Family Health International/Impact (FHI) men's health officer, agreed
that peer pressure increased the risks.
"HIV is still a problem - they are usually away from home, and the military
environment drives them to have sex," Dr Ngak said. "For example, they
[are pressured] to smoke, to drink, to have more than one partner - to be a real
More than 71,000 members of the armed forces and police are participating in an HIV/AIDS
awareness campaign which involves peer education and distributing free condoms.
The program, run by FHI and the Ministry of Defense, involves a 'friend educate friend'
campaign which aims to reduce transmission by the military of HIV and other sexually
transmitted diseases. The three-year program has been a success, said Dr Ngak, with
more soldiers using condoms with sex partners.
However a Buddhist cleric in the audience, the Venerable Seng Somany, compared brothels
to land mines, and described condoms as simply bullet-proof jackets. He said the
military should abandon sex rather than using condoms.
"If military officials know that there is a land mine, why don't they ask their
people to stay away from it?" he asked. "Why do you want them to wear bullet-proof
vests and allow them to walk on the land mines?"
Keo Rachna replied that sex was inevitable.
"[Sex] is a requirement of humans, and even you must have sex feelings,"
he told the monk. "When soldiers come for education [some of them] haven't had
sex for three or four months, and I have to insist they have condoms."
The last survey in 1997 showed that around 7 percent of the military were HIV positive.
That figure, a military spokesperson said, had "reduced a lot" under the
peer education program.