Cambodia is one of the countries worst affected by HIV in south-east Asia. Despite a decline in prevalence from 3.3% in 1998 to an estimated 0.9% currently, over 250,000 people have been infected with HIV since the beginning of the epidemic in 1991, and over 16,000 people have died of AIDS.

The decline in prevalence is attributed to a combination of high mortality rates among those infected with HIV and successful HIV prevention programs among some populations. These programs were the result of committed efforts on the part of government, non-governmental organizations and civil society. The new challenge is to avoid becoming complacent.

While the highest levels of HIV infection are still to be found among sex workers, men who have sex with men, men in uniform, and drug users, national statistics show that the epidemic is also shifting from these traditionally high-risk populations into the general population. The highest number of new infections now occur among housewives as men switch to having casual sex with ‘sweethearts’.

Partly as a consequence of high levels of HIV prevalence, it is estimated that 7.8% of children below 15 in Cambodia have lost one or both parents – approximately 335,000 children. Care of orphans is a major concern in a country still recovering from decades of civil unrest and facing extreme poverty. Many of TWR Cambodia’s existing programs for children, youth and women already do address some of the issues around HIV/AIDS but staff are concerned that this is inadequate.

I have spent his week with the team here presenting to them the potential for accessing funding for a dedicated HIV/AIDS program. They are an excellent team and excited about the possibility. Next week will be spent doing some background research in a number of areas and I will return the first week in December to work with them developing an in depth proposal and meeting with some potential partners in this venture.