A Khmer Prognosis
Cambodia is a success story in the global landscape of AIDS. In 1997 the rate of infections peaked and three of every 100 inhabitants were HIV positive. Today, behavior changes have led to an infection rate of 0.9 percent. Despite this dramatic decline, Cambodia still has the highest rate of HIV in Southeast Asia and one of the highest in Asia, and it risks coming back.
Signs suggest a fresh wave of HIV infections among populations most at risk. Possible donor funding cuts from abroad doubly threatens the current success. Today, the epidemic has also matured beyond these populations, passing along the chain from prostitutes to their clients, and from the clients to their wives and children. Compounding the physical effects of the disease, the stigma attached to AIDS cripples its victims both socially and economically.
Whether or not Cambodia will be able to maintain its current rate of success will depend on wide-reaching social and economic shifts. Empowering women, reducing the stigma of the disease and encouraging a greater reduction in the number of sex partners are critical to sustaining a low percentage of infections.
In this way, as well as so many others, AIDS tells the story of power. Those who have it and those who do not. For the poor and the powerless, the options for avoiding infection will always be more difficult.