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
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
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
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
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
"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