Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and Covid-19




Ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and Covid-19

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodia’s HIV success is rooted in innovation, community engagement and community-based solutions,strong international health partnerships, and political commitment of the government. Heng Chivoan

Ending the colliding pandemics of HIV and Covid-19

December 1 – World AIDS Day – is a time to remember the lives lost, celebrate progress achieved, and recommit to eradicating AIDS. In the year when the HIV and Covid-19 pandemics collided, the theme of World AIDS Day 2020 is: “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit hardest the poorest and most vulnerable and has exacerbated the challenges faced by people living with HIV. Thus, all stakeholders engaged in fighting Covid-19 and AIDS – governments, donors, religious leaders, academia, civil society, people living with HIV, and at-riskpopulations – must work together to end this double scourge.

Theary So is one of the many unsung heroes in Cambodia who is soldiering against the twin pandemics of HIV and Covid-19. She is living with HIV and works as a counselor with the Antiretroviral Users Association in Phnom Penh.

“In the past I was a typical housewife. People called me ‘older sister,’ but after working at the treatment site people now call me ‘teacher’,” Theary said with a big smile. “I did not stop coming to work even though I am scared I might get infected with Covid-19. I want to make sure people living with HIV get their treatment and counseling. It’s important that we take our medicines every day, to stay healthy and be there for our families.”

An estimated 73,000 people are living with HIV in Cambodia. There is good news, however. A full 84 per cent of those living with HIVare on lifesaving treatment and 81per cent have achieved viral suppression. Cambodia has attained the highest treatment coverage among all Asia-Pacific nations. In 2019, there were 780 new HIV infections, a 62 per cent decline compared to 2010. Cambodia has turned the tide on what was once the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the region to become one of the first countries globally to achieve HIV epidemic control.

Cambodia’s HIV success is rooted in innovation, community engagement and community-based solutions,strong international health partnerships, and political commitment of the government. This success has also built solid foundations in combatting other infectious diseases. However, these gains are fragile. Eradicating HIV requires continued and increased respect for human rights and gender equality, particularly for at-risk populations and the civil society organisations who advocate and provide services for them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened social and economic inequalities that increase vulnerability within marginalised groups to HIV. The pandemic has worsened the problem of stigma in communities and remains a challenge for people living with HIV. As with HIV, Covid-19 has generated anxiety among health service providers and led patients to avoid health centres out of fear of infection. Stigma contributes to loss of work opportunities, depression, and poor adherence to medication regimens. However, we have the tools to combat the stigma associated with Covid-19 and HIV.

One way is to build service provider capacity to prevent and control infection. A second example is the global “U=U” campaign that educates us that when HIV is undetectable it is untransmissible. People living with HIV on treatment who have achieved undetectable levels of HIV in the blood cannot transmit the disease. This reduces fear-based stigma and gives hope to people living with HIV. It can also encourage those at risk to test and treat early.

There is an increased risk of HIV transmission among key populations, particularly young men who have sex with men and transgender women. As they already face stigma and discrimination, many of these young people do not get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections that put them at higher risk for HIV. They also do not seek out or receive proper treatment or counseling. As the US celebrates the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cambodia, and the UN marks the 75th anniversary of its foundation, UNAIDS and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) work hand in hand with the Ministry of Health and local community organisations to address the needs of these at-risk populations.

One example of this collaboration is innovative community-based services like HIV self-testingand using anti-HIV drugs to prevent infection among individuals at high-risk (referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). Globally, where PrEP has been implemented widely for those at risk, infection rates have dropped precipitously. Seven public and private sites across Cambodia currently provide PrEP services and 11 more sites will do so in the next few months.

Eliminating stigma and discrimination, putting people at the centre of the response,and grounding our efforts in respect for human rights and gender-responsive approaches are key to minimising the impact of the collidingHIV and Covid-19 pandemics.

The challenges of 2020 should serve as a wake-up call: an opportunity for bold leadership and to do things differently, better, and more collaboratively. Our success will hinge upon engagement and not estrangement, solidarity and not siloed approaches.

Vladanka Andreeva is UNAIDS country director in Cambodia and W Patrick Murphy is the US ambassador.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Courts’ decisions now published as reference source

    The Ministry of Justice has published 44 verdicts from civil litigation cases which can be used as models for court precedents and for study by the public and those who work in pertinent fields. Publication of the verdicts on December 31 came as the result of joint

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • Quarantine site in north Phnom Penh inaugurated

    A four-building quarantine centre in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district was formally inaugurated on January 6. The centre can house up to 500 people, according to Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng. At the inauguration ceremony, Sreng said the municipal hall had cooperated with the Ministry

  • China firm to develop Mondulkiri airport

    Tourism to the Kingdom’s northeast corridor could experience a remarkable metamorphosis after the government decided in principle of a Chinese company to study and develop a proposal to build a regional-level airport in Mondulkiri province, according to industry insiders. The Council of Ministers said