The National Aids Authority (NAA) said more than 800 people tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) last year, joining over 76,000 others aged between 15 and 49 in the Kingdom already infected with the virus.
The spread of HIV/AIDS in the Kingdom is showing few signs of slowing.
The number of new HIV/AIDS cases last year reflected an increase of more than 40 per cent compared to that of 2017, when the Ministry of Health said 572 additional HIV-positive people were identified.
A report published by the ministry showed that between January and September last year alone, 525 patients had died of AIDS-related diseases.
And, within the same period, a total of 59,551 HIV-positive people had taken medication to reduce the viral load in their blood. Of these, 56,000 were adults and more than 3,000 children, the ministry said.
Comparing the studies conducted in 2014 and last year, NAA secretary-general Dr Teng Kunthy told The Post on Thursday that the rate of HIV infections in Cambodia had “generally declined” over four years.
He noted that of more than 76,000 people who tested positive for the virus across the Kingdom, 98 per cent had sought treatment.
“This means there’s a high number of individuals needing attention, observation and services regarding their treatment,” Kunthy said.
He called for greater attention to be paid to issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and for a higher level of awareness and precaution, especially in rural areas.
Kunthy suggested that people’s awareness of safe sex practices and HIV/AIDS remains limited, “especially among those living in the countryside”.
“Please use condoms when having sex with third parties who are not your partners,” he stressed.
He also pointed out that the epidemic was prevalent among the LGBTQ community.
“Based on our observation, many of the people infected by the virus identified themselves as homosexuals,” he said.
Rachana Chhoeurng, the project coordinator for Micro Rainbow in Cambodia, which is part of London-based Micro Rainbow International Foundation, said discrimination against the Kingdom’s LGBTQ community contributed to widespread HIV infections among them.
She stressed that people’s negative perception of HIV/AIDS often resulted in those infected with the virus being excluded from society.
This might deter HIV-positive people from seeking counselling services and appropriate treatment due to their feeling embarrassed or lacking knowledge about the disease, Chhoeurng said.
“To reduce viral transmission and the increasing death toll from AIDS-related diseases, a new law offering anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community must be enacted,” she said while reiterating that the government ought to safeguard the rights of those living with HIV.
Sa Rith, an LGBTQ community member in his late 30s, claimed that homosexual men were “more susceptible to HIV infections compared to lesbians and heterosexuals. This, he said is because homosexual men had the tendency “to have more than one sleeping partner”.
He also claimed that many homosexual men were prone to be exposed to unsafe sex.
The NAA said most HIV/AIDS cases were recorded in Phnom Penh, followed by Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kandal and Kampong Cham provinces. It said this corresponded with the respective population numbers in each province.
In 2016, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released a report highlighting Cambodia’s continued success in combating HIV/AIDS.
The report showed that, of the estimated 72,000 people infected by the virus, 75 per cent had access to treatment, a figure that the agency’s representative in Cambodia then regarded as “among the highest in the region . . . it is also among the highest treatment coverage for a low-income country”.
By 2015, Cambodia was already able to reduce new infections to fewer than 1,000 per year – a decrease of 96 per cent from its peak.
In 2013, Cambodia committed itself to achieve the global “90-90-90” targets by 2020 (that 90 per cent of people living with HIV is diagnosed, 90 per cent of those diagnosed are on anti-retroviral treatment, and 90 per cent of those on treatment are virally suppressed).
The government has pledged to go even further and reduce new HIV infections to fewer than 300 annually by 2025 and effectively end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat, five years ahead of the global goal.