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Mixed outcomes in HIV fight

A Cambodian doctor offers Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs to a woman who is living with HIV at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital in 2012.
A Cambodian doctor offers antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to a woman who is living with HIV at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital in 2012. AFP

Mixed outcomes in HIV fight

While the rate of HIV infections has consistently plummeted among pregnant women, the number of homosexual, bisexual and transgender men with the disease has yet to be curbed by current intervention methods, according to findings revealed in a behavioural study on HIV prevalence, released yesterday.

The research, conducted by the National Center for HIV/AIDs (NCHADS) and KHANA’s HIV/AIDS Flagship project, focused on information provided by pregnant women and homosexual men over a three-month period in 2014, based on sexual history, behaviours and access to information.

Presenters yesterday urged for the new study’s findings to be used, not as hard data, but as a tool in understanding how at-risk citizens can maintain healthcare access, despite declining funds from external donors.

“Funds have decreased from outside so we need to prepare ourselves,” said NCHADS director Dr Ly Penh Sun in his opening remarks yesterday.

“We need to involve the Ministry of Health in universal health care coverage and we [need] substantial treatment for all people,” he said, adding that NCHADS planned to revise their prevention guidelines in the next month, explaining “people are changing, we need to be flexible”.

Yesterday’s findings highlighted the effectiveness of targeting mother-to-infant transmission.

The rate of HIV-positive pregnant women dropped mor ethan 40 per cent since 2010, to just 0.28 per cent last year – a substantial decline from a peak of 2.9 per cent infected in 1999.

However, the rate of infection remains much higher for men who have sex with men (or MSM), with 2.3 per cent prevalence in 2014 (4 per cent for bisexual men), out of what research estimates is a population of 30,000 MSM in the Kingdom.

This data appears to be a slight increase from 2010 numbers, and while over 90 per cent of men said they had access to HIV education, 30 per cent still fail to use condoms, according to the report.

Overall gains, meanwhile, have led to a retreat in donor funding, transferring the financial burden of HIV care onto Cambodia’s shoulders, officials said.

According to the US Embassy, because 77 per cent of those infected with HIV have access to treatment, Cambodia’s response to the epidemic “is widely considered a success story”.

Sheri-Nouane Duncan-Jones, director of public health and education for USAID Cambodia, said yesterday that Cambodia is at “a crossroads in the response”.

“As the external donor funding decreases, we need to find a way to reach people,” she said, adding that this study was a key in doing just that.

“HIV among the MSM population is emerging and rapidly accelerating,” warned Marie-Odile Emond, country director for UNAID via email.

“But where good HIV prevention programmes are available, HIV prevalence is declining or has stabilised.”

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