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Mobility can be highway to hell

Mobility can be highway to hell

The downside of development is that for some a new road can be a pathway to

HIV infection.

"HIV can be a consequence of mobility," said Oum Sopheap,

WorldVision's program manager for HIV/AIDS. WorldVision runs "Strategic Aids

Reduction" projects along Route 4 and Route 1 precisely because of the link

between mobility and HIV.

"If a community is isolated [the people there]

may have less chance of contracting HIV, but if those same people go to the city

to find work then they will have a higher than average HIV risk," says Sopheap,

who argues that information is the key.

"If people have low access to

information then they are much more vulnerable," he says.

WorldVision has

been attempting to address that problem along Routes 1 and 2 for the past year.

The program concentrates on the heavily populated sections of the roads covering

the first 100 kilometers from Phnom Penh along Route 4 and the first 70

kilometers of Route 1.

Sopheap cites Route 4 as an example of what can

happen when infrastructure is improved and industries are established on

transport routes.

"Along Route 4 there are more than 20,000 garment

factory workers. Most of them are mobile, or at least most have originally come

from the provinces. Then there are military bases along there with around 10,000

personnel, so that's a high risk area," he says.

"Sometimes the garment

girls go from the factories to the entertainment industry as beer girls or in

brothels. They come from the provinces to find work but they never go home," he

says.

"We provide information to people residing along the highway and we

provide HIV testing and counseling. We also take care of HIV positive people

with basic medication and give social and psychological services to their

families," Sopheap says of the program for addressing the causes and

consequences of HIV/AIDS.

New road construction also poses particular

challenges. Construction sites attract a large population of itinerant men, who

often live on site and, according to Sopheap, can introduce HIV to a previously

isolated area.

With the boom in national road construction, WorldVision

is looking to expand its programs along the new routes and introduce HIV/AIDS

components to other development programs running along Routes 2 and 3.

"HIV/AIDS goes across borders so we would like to join our programs with

WorldVision programs in Vietnam on Route 1 and Thailand along Route 5," says

Sopheap. "HIV prevention programs should always be a precondition [of road

construction]. Everyone needs to look at it that way."

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