With a population of 15,760,000, Cambodia has an estimated 67,000 adults living with HIV, or about 0.43%. New infections have been falling steadily since 1995, now reaching a steady low state of fewer than 1000 new cases per year, while the coverage of Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been rising to 80% of affected adults.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) constitute less than half Cambodia’s HIV-positive persons, though predictably, those have a higher rate of infection than the general population. Only about 40% of young people 15-24 know about HIV prevention; and fewer young women than young men.
Of Cambodia and its neighboring countries Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, Cambodia’s infection rate falls about in the middle. Thailand, with a much larger population, has a higher overall rate but has reduced its mother-to-child infection rate to zero; and Vietnam, largest of these countries with a population 6 times that of Cambodia, has a lower overall rate.
(Figures from UNAIDS, 2016)
Mother and Son
In a cozy neighborhood of Phnom Penh’s inner city we’re meeting 20-year-old Seyha and his mother, Choun Sokha. Seyha was infected with HIV at birth from his mother.
Until 2005, mother-to-child transmission was a major cause of the rapid spread of the AIDS epidemic in many African countries. Nowadays we know that if the infected pregnant mother gets the right medication, the chance of transmission to her baby is reduced to almost zero. Everywhere today that this knowledge is brought into practice leads to spectacular success. Treated mothers bear healthy babies.
Historically, drug users and sex workers in Cambodia are the groups most infected with HIV. But Seyha and his mother show that in this century HIV can also afflict the ordinary Cambodian family where drugs and prostitution play no role. In our film Seyha and his mother tell how that came about and what its consequences have been.