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HIV/AIDS in Cambodia

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Cambodia was initially hard-hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1991 when it was detected that the national blood supply was infected with HIV.  This created a public health crisis in
a nation where cash-strapped families often resort to the selling of their blood for survival. In the years following, HIV transmission was spread among commercial sex workers, drug users and migrant laborers.

In Battambang, a border province which thrives on legal and illegal trade with neighboring Thailand, the spread of HIV was particularly underlined because of the large numbers of cross-border migrant workers.

In the nearby town of Poipet, the casinos and commercial sex industry draws thousands of visitors from throughout the region. The epidemic was fuelled as migrant workers, truck drivers, military personnel and traders who were infected with HIV returned home | often infecting their unknowing wives.

Today, AIDS continues to pose a serious threat to this impoverished, post-war nation,
which has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the Asia-Pacific region. A national AIDS intervention program including a 100% condom-use campaign resulted in a decline inHIV prevalence from 4% to 2.7% (UNAIDS July 2002). Cambodia has an estimated 170,000 reported cases HIV infections or roughly one in seventy people.

The social repercussions of the AIDS crisis are enormous; an estimated 30,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS (losing one or both parents) and 5000 HIV infected children have died. Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS is alarmingly high at 3% among pregnant women |many of who lack access to pre and post natal HIV testing or treatment. The lack of an effective Mother-to-Child prevention program will lead to increased numbers of children infected with HIV during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

The number of AIDS orphans is expected to rise to 140,000 by year 2005. Children affected
by HIV/AIDS face stigma and discrimination in their communities often drop out of school
to enter the labor force to supplement their familyfs income. The future prospects for
these unskilled and poorly educated children are bleak.

More importantly, children affected by AIDS suffer emotionally and psychologically as they watch their loved ones suffer and die from AIDS. The uncertainty of knowing who will take care of them can be painful, and many AIDS orphans suffer from depression and social withdrawal.

Cambodiafs severely underdeveloped public health infrastructure lacks proper medical facilities, treatment and care programs and training of public health staff required
to address the AIDS crisis.

HIV/AIDS is rapidly spreading among Cambodiafs youth; street children, child sex workers
and child laborers engaging in unprotected sex and drug use are a high risk group for HIV transmission. UNAIDS estimates that 20 Cambodians are newly with HIV every day - half of whom are under the age of 24-years old.

Cambodiafs tragic recent history of civil war and brutal genocide carried out by the Pol Pot regime lost 1.7 million lives. More than half of Cambodiafs population is youth under the age of twenty. Activists have likened Cambodiafs HIV/AIDS crisis to a new, undeclared form of gwarh with a rising death toll.

Cambodiafs next generation are silently calling out for gUrgent Actionh | and after years
of darkness |are seeking the light of hope.


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