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Study finds ‘alarming’ HIV rate among transgender women in Cambodia

Medical officials conduct blood tests for HIV in Kandal province earlier this year. According to a study released on Friday, HIV among transgender women has increased by over 1 per cent since 2012.
Medical officials conduct blood tests for HIV in Kandal province earlier this year. According to a study released on Friday, HIV among transgender women has increased by over 1 per cent since 2012. Hong Menea

Study finds ‘alarming’ HIV rate among transgender women in Cambodia

A new survey has revealed that the HIV prevalence rate among transgender women in Cambodia stands at a 5.9 per cent – a rate NGO leaders working on the issue called “alarming”.

The findings of the first-of-its-kind comprehensive survey were released on Friday by the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control (NCHADS) and the health NGO KHANA.

A total of 1,375 transgender women from 13 provinces participated in the survey. The three provinces with the highest prevalence rates were Banteay Meanchey, with 11.7 per cent; Siem Reap, with 11.3 per cent; and Phnom Penh with 6.5 per cent.

Choub Sok Chamreun, director of KHANA, said although the overall prevalence rate for this group was not bad compared to other countries in the region, it was high compared to the prevalence rate among the general population within the country, which stands at just 0.6 per cent.

“It’s quite alarming,” he said.

In 2012, the prevalence rate for the same group stood at 4.2 per cent. Although, Sok Chamreun said the methodology for that year’s survey was different, and therefore, couldn’t be compared.

But the findings of the new survey indicate that transgender individuals could be at increased risk. For instance, only 45 per cent of participants had been reached by NGOs with intervention programs in the past three months.

Condom use also remained low, and hormonal therapy was being used without medical guidelines and was often self-administered, Sok Chamreun said. Additionally, only 48 per cent of those with HIV were receiving treatment.

Ou Virak, founder of the think-tank Future Forum, said the best way to reach out to transgender people is by integrating them into the general population. He said the problem is that “they are never truly accepted”.

“It will take the government and the politicians to really call for a change on how we see them and how we treat them,” he said, adding that without integration, intervention efforts will continue to fall short.

Dr Ly Penh Sun, director of NCHADS, didn’t return requests for comment, and Mun Phalkun, a surveillance officer at the centre, declined to comment yesterday.

Dr Kasem Kolnary, director of the NGO Cambodia HIV/AIDS Education and Care, said his organisation doesn’t specifically reach out to transgender individuals because his NGO’s donors haven’t shown an interest in targeting them.

“We need more funding, because many NGOs want to do the work, but they don’t have the donors,” he said.

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