Crisis changing HIV/AIDS fight

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Chin Panhavion, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The number of HIV/AIDS victims has been noticeably decreasing as Cambodia has fought this communicable disease for two decades.

“The infection prevalence of HIV/AIDS has reduced, from 1.7 percent during 1997–1998 to 0.7 percent in 2011,” the director of the Center for HIV, Skin Disease and Venereal Disease at the Cambodia’s Ministry of Health, Mean Chhivun, said recently.

In the third phase of its fight between 2011 and 2020, Cambodia is committed to reducing HIV/AIDS prevalence to under one person a day.

“This is a new stage to prevent newly infected HIV/AIDS patients in Cambodia,” Mean Chhivun said.

The first case of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia was found in 1991. The prevalence of infections reached its peak of 1.7 percent, six years later.

Between 1997 and 1998, 100 people were infected with HIV/AIDS every day. Amazingly, the number has dramatically decreased to 2 to 3 new HIV patients a day in 2011.

Between 1997 and 2000, the virus not only affected the patient but their whole families.

Phok Bunreun of the HIV/AIDS Coordinating Committee (HACC), a network of over 120 international and local civil society groups working on HIV/AIDS, said that many families got into difficulties and ran out of money because they had to take care of their infected family members.

“People had to sell their land or homes n order to care for their HIV/AIDS-infected family member,” he told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

In 2001, the ministry began to cooperate with international community and civil society groups working on HIV/AIDS.

It started with antiretroviral drugs. The result have been quite encouraging. “Patients’ health is improving and they can work to support their families,” Phok Bunreun said.

The program developed into a public awareness campaign about HIV/AIDS using television, radio and print.

Norn Yean, 37, who got infected with HIV in 2008, told how she often fell sick, tired and got headaches.

But after taking antiretroviral drugs from NGO in her village, she felt better and could work.

“My neighbors are very friendly. They don’t discriminate me. They take care of me,” Norn Yean said.

Mean Chhivun said that the program succeeded in raising people’s awareness of the disease and an estimated 97 percent of the Cambodian people now know about the virus.

Moreover, until May, 90 percent of local HIV/AIDS patients, equal to 47,193 people, including 4,515 children, received medical check-ups, compared to only 71 people in 2001

Now, Cambodia has 66 medical centers for HIV/AIDS patients and 33 medical centers for HIV/AIDS infected children.

However, the global economic downturn has triggered new concern.

Budgets for fighting against HIV/AIDS have been cut. VOA Cambodia has reported that Cambodia has received US$50 million a year for HIV prevention, treatment, from the international communities with the US Agency for International Development and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria as the core donors.

Despite the funding cut, Mean Chhinstill was optimistic that the program could still be run.

“We should find new strategies and focus only on major priority program,” he said.

Phok Bunreun, whose HACC received about $200,000 for 2010–2011, but received less for 2011–2012, said all elements should refocus their programs.

“Otherwise, HIV will explode again, like in 2007. It is like the back wave pushes the front wave,” he warned.

The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

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