Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Australia and Cambodia working to end the inequalities underpinning HIV



Australia and Cambodia working to end the inequalities underpinning HIV

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A clinic counsellor consults with patients at Chhouk Sar Clinic in Phnom Penh. SUPPLIED

Australia and Cambodia working to end the inequalities underpinning HIV

On June 5, 1981, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study on five cases of a rare pneumonia – it was not known at the time, but these were the first documented cases of AIDS-related illnesses. By the end of 1986, 85 countries had reported cases of AIDS to the World Health Organisation.

The CDC estimated 493,000 people were living with HIV, including about 84,000 new cases that year. As with other pandemics, the world faced a new and unknown virus, which led to illness, death and fear. Four decades on, while HIV treatment has saved millions of lives, there is no cure and no vaccine for HIV.

The AIDS pandemic is driven by inequalities. In many parts of the world, those living with HIV experience high levels of stigma, discrimination and violence. Almost two-thirds of new HIV infections globally occur among what we call “key populations” (gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use and inject drugs, sex workers, and transgender people) and their sexual partners.

Australia has a long history of support and action on HIV in the Indo-Pacific region. We are committed to working with global partners to end AIDS as well as to address the inequality faced by those living with and affected by HIV. In June, Australia was proud to co-facilitate the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, which puts human rights, gender equality, science, and communities at the centre of the HIV response.

We acknowledge progress towards the global 2030 target to end AIDS as a public health threat has been slow and uneven. All the 2020 global HIV/AIDS targets, launched in 2014, were missed. Dr Khin Cho Win Htin, UNAIDS acting country director in Cambodia, said: “Worldwide the missed targets have resulted in 3.5 million more HIV infections and 820,000 more AIDS-related deaths since 2015 than if the 2020 targets were met.”

On top of this, over the last almost two years, we have witnessed the devastating impact of Covid-19. Women, alongside the poor, elderly, disabled and migrant populations, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. There has been a devastating impact on poverty levels and increasing wealth, gender, and ethnic inequalities.

Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of the gains made in the HIV response and exacerbated the inequalities that drive the AIDS pandemic. At the end of 2020, the first year of Covid-19, UNAIDS reported an estimated 1.5 million people had contracted HIV worldwide that year, 37.7 million people were living with HIV, and 680,000 people had died of AIDS-related illnesses..

Here in Cambodia, Australia is working in collaboration with UNAIDS, the government, civil society and communities of people living with HIV and key populations, as well as relevant development partners, to end AIDS in Cambodia, and to build a stronger, healthier, safer and more inclusive Indo-Pacific region. We are working to support community-led organisations to improve prevention and testing services and address inequality, stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV and key populations, ultimately increasing their access to quality and stigma free services.

At the same time, a consortium of Australia’s leading infectious disease research centres – the Kirby, Doherty, and Burnet Institutes – together with international collaborators, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics – is also strengthening laboratory capacity for testing and diagnosis of Covid-19, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s HIV response has been commendable. Its success is grounded in national leadership and inclusiveness, with a focus on people-centred services and progress towards an enabling legal environment.

This success was seen in Cambodia’s early achievement of international diagnostic and treatment targets, as well as the delivery of innovative HIV prevention and testing services, including the important work, launched by the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (NCHADS) in 2019, on PrEP (medicine taken by people at risk for HIV to prevent it), and HIV self-testing for key populations in 2020.

Sadly, Dr Ly Penh Sun, the director of NCHADS, recently passed away. Dr Ly’s leadership was focused on how to improve the lives of people living with HIV and key populations. He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him, worked with him and benefitted from his dedication.

For Dr Ly’s legacy, and if we are to meet our collective commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – including the goal of ending AIDS by 2025 in Cambodia – there is more to be done. Fighting the HIV epidemic is a priority for UNAIDS and the Australian government.

Despite the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should not lose sight of the need to support essential health services such as HIV prevention. We know community-led testing, treatment, and prevention are the pillars of an effective HIV response.

Today, on World AIDS Day, Australia is committed to keeping up the momentum and working together to end the inequalities that underpin the HIV epidemic. Tackling these inequalities will make societies better prepared to beat Covid-19 and other pandemics, while supporting economic recovery and stability.

Together, we can end AIDS.

Pablo Kang is Australian ambassador to Cambodia

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • Cambodia's poverty cut in half from 2009 to 2019: World Bank report

    A report published by the World Bank on November 28 states that Cambodia’s national poverty rate fell by almost half between 2009 and 2019, but the Covid-19 pandemic recently reversed some of the poverty reduction progress. Cambodia’s poverty rate dropped from 33.8 to 17.8 per cent over the 10