Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Province cries out for AIDS treatment

Province cries out for AIDS treatment

Province cries out for AIDS treatment

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province.jpg

Venerable Muny Van Saveth, Executive Director at Wat Norea Peaceful Children's Home is expanding his AIDS awareness campaign nation-wide.

People living with HIV/AIDS in Banteay Meanchey province want access to a government

Anti-Retrovirals Treatment (ART) program to prolong and improve the quality of their

life.

In early February, two people living with HIV/AIDS, Se Sovary and Neang Sarin, visited

Phnom Penh as part of a delegation led by the Social Environment Agriculture Development

Organization (SEADO), requesting the Ministry of Health (MoH) and NGOs to consider

providing the ART program in Banteay Meanchey.

Currently the province has only social support and basic medication. This is despite

having nearly 950 people living with HIV/AIDS, making it one of the worst affected

provinces in the country. The closest treatment facility is in Siem Reap, approximately

170 km away.

"Everyone knows that if our government and NGOs do nothing for us, the people

with HIV/AIDS will die. They should get something to prolong their life," says

Kong Samnang, exec-utive director of SEADO. "We came here to beg NGOs and our

government to do something for us. The NGOs now know that we need this kind of program

to be implemented and they support the idea."

About 11 percent of Cambodians living with HIV/AIDS have access to ART, quite high

compared to Africa which only has three percent.

But the treatment is costly. In the last two years, the government has spent $400,000

purchasing the treatment, an average of $500 per person per year.

"Retrovirals just help to prolong the disease, they cannot cure it", said

Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state of MoH.

Sovary, 32, had a positive blood test for AIDS in 2003. Her husband died from the

disease a year earlier. She says it was important to talk and raise awareness about

the disease and the problems in combating it.

"In Banteay Meanchey province there are no drugs, so sufferers have to travel

to Siem Reap for treatment. But Siem Reap is not admitting any more patients and

it is difficult to get drugs. Patients must spend two weeks under examination to

check for other illnesses before they receive ART," says Sovary.

According to Tea Phalla, secretary general of the National Aids Authority (NAA) there

are 157,500 people who are HIV positive in the country, including 20,000 people living

with HIV/AIDS.

At the moment the ART program has provided free drugs to more than 2000 people in

Kampong Cham, Takeo, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap provinces.

"The program is gradually running to the other provinces, but it has problems

with the network arrangement," he says.

In Battambang province, Buddhist monks are leading an education campaign to reduce

the stigma and increase awareness of HIV/AIDS.

At a pagoda in Norea Village just outside Battambang, Venerable Muny Van Saveth has

spent 12 years caring for orphans of AIDS parents, and spreading awareness about

the disease.

Similar to AIDS, Van Saveth's education campaign has penetrated deeply and effectively.

From 2002, six districts and more than 500 monks have been involved in the dissemination

of information material. "It's been about 80 percent effective in educating

the public," he said.

He now wants to expand the project to pagodas and districts nationwide. On February

26-27 he will hold a conference to teach monks throughout the country about raising

awareness of HIV AIDS education. They will also discuss new ways of expanding the

project.

Van Saveth will write proposals to internal and foreign organizations for fundraising

donations. His project currently receives funding from UNICEF and the Policy Project

Organization, and in the past has been supported by the World Food Program.

If possible however, he does not want to be reliant on others for the project to

work.

"We are still learning to stand up and walk forward. I am not asking to be given

fish forever, but I do need someone to build the lake," he said.

As well as education about the disease, monks in Battambang also provide practical

and emotional support to sufferers.

With no ART facility available in Battambang province, Buddhism for Develop-ment

facilitates contact between AIDS sufferers with the center in Siem Reap. The organization

provides information on where to go and what services are provided.

They also provide a home care project whereby monks visit AIDS sufferers to offer

assistance and compassion.

Director of the project, Heng Monychenda , says it is a positive alternative to leaving

terminal patients in hospitals or orphanages, and is much more cost effective.

"Most of these people need love and compassion from their family. The best way

to do this is for us to send our monks to console them," says Monychenda.

"We say that HIV is just another disease, and people are receptive to this notion.

When people say that it is a death sentence, then they are lowering their shield."

Monychenda believes a positive attitude makes a difference.

"We say that AIDS treatments such as ART prolongs the life, not delays death.

If we prolong the life, they will do good things in a positive way and contribute

to society."

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