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NGOs say HIV tests in Peam must go on

Medical officers record the details of Peam villagers in preparation for blood tests in Kandal province’s Muk Kampoul district on Monday.
Medical officers record the details of Peam villagers in preparation for blood tests in Kandal province’s Muk Kampoul district on Monday. Hong Menea

NGOs say HIV tests in Peam must go on

Multiple Cambodian HIV NGOs yesterday questioned the wisdom of discontinuing mass HIV testing at Kandal province’s Peam village, where a disproportionate cluster of infections has been discovered in recent weeks.

However, Ly Penh Sun, director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control (NCHADS), stood by his decision not to offer further testing at the village.

Var Chivorn, executive director of the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia, said he understood the concern over the decision to halt testing.

“I’m not sure what NCHADS are thinking about,” he said. “I think they think it’s a low prevalence [so] they don’t need to worry . . . actually anything more than 1 per cent is high.”

Sixteen cases of HIV have been confirmed in the village over the past two weeks. Monday’s testing by NCHADS of 279 of the village’s 1,039 residents garnered only four positive results.

However, even with more than two-thirds of Peam remaining untested, this puts prevalence at marginally under 1.6 per cent.

Penh Sun said that while the figure is “not low”, it is “not alarming” either. He said lab tests on 10 of the diagnosed cases found that the patients had been HIV positive for some time. Any Peam residents concerned they might have HIV could get a test at a health centre 10 kilometres away, he said.

His view was not shared by a Choub Sok Chamreun, executive director of HIV NGO Khana and chairman of the steering committee of the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee, a network of Cambodian civil society organisations working on the virus.

“Since the number of new positivity has been identified [as] quite considerable, and there has been [a] high number of villagers voluntarily accepted HIV testing, and it is in line with the national programme to improve case detection then the continuation of having HIV testing service closed to the villagers for some days is really necessary,” Chamreun wrote in a text message last night.

“The situation of high positivity found in Peam village should be further studied to understand how the HIV is transmitted.”

Chan Theary, executive director of the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RCHA), said NGOs and governments had different ways of working.

“[NGOs] would act immediately, we want to know right away . . . Maybe the Health Ministry wants to consider; maybe they don’t have enough resources; maybe they want to discuss further,” Theary said, adding that “to do intervention early saves lives”.

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