Children Increasingly Living With HIV/AIDS in Cambodia; Officials Focusing on Prevention
Cambodia has shifted the focus of its HIV/AIDS prevention efforts from young adults to children in response to 2008 statistics that show an increase in rates of antiretroviral use among children and mother-to-child transmission of the virus, the Phnom Penh Post reports. Mean Chhi Vun -- director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs -- said that the government has begun a program to provide "HIV testing for 6,745 pregnant women [this year] in 68 health centers across five of our operational districts." Thirty-five of the women tested positive for HIV and received follow-up care and medicine from the center, according to Vun. Teng Kunthy, general secretary of the National AIDS Authority of Cambodia, said that the government also is focusing on a national registration program to coordinate treatment for children living with HIV. The program "has been running smoothly so far and has encouraged more children to seek treatment," he said.
Vun said that between January and September of 2008, about 2,913 children received antiretroviral drugs, an increase from about 1,800 in 2007. He added that nationwide pediatric HIV/AIDS figures are determined by the number of children receiving antiretroviral treatment through the nation's clinics, adding that the figures do not include the estimated 600 children living with HIV who are not yet receiving treatment or who have not been tested for the virus. Chan Ry, deputy director of the National Pediatric Hospital, said that 300 children were treated at the facility in 2007 and now it is providing treatment to 1,155 children.
The increase in the number of cases involving MTCT "testif[ies] to the fact that women are not able to access good" prenatal care to prevent transmission, the Post reports. A 2006 UNAIDS report shows that while prevalence among young people ages 15 to 49 has decreased to 1.9% in 2003 -- compared with 3% in 1997 -- one-third of new HIV cases are because of MTCT. According to the Post, there are about 461,000 live births annually in Cambodia -- mostly outside of health centers and hospitals -- and an estimated 9,700 pregnant women are living with HIV. UNAIDS data indicates that without any intervention, about 3,000 infants may be born with HIV through vertical transmission. According to Tan Vouch Chheng, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Health, antiretroviral drugs are dispensed at 26 locations and HIV testing is offered at another 212 facilities. However, she added, "We have to expand our programs for prevention and the spread of HIV/AIDS from mothers to children."
The Post reports that the exact number of children living with HIV/AIDS is unknown but "experts support the proposition" that it is "rising fast." Seng Chhunleng, coordinator for the Orphans and Vulnerable Children program at World Vision, said the number of children living with HIV/AIDS will continue to increase if something is not done to stop vertical transmission. "This is a problem that we still have to commit to solving," he said, adding that Cambodia "should provide better education and more medicine to stop transmission between mothers and children" (Leakhana/Kunthear, Phnom Penh Post, 1/6).