Monday, June 15, 2009

Cambodia Celebrates Candlelight Memorial Day

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

About 2,000 People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) have gathered on June 8 in Phnom Penh to recall the thousands who lost their battle against the disease and to encourage individuals, families and the community to commit to abolishing discrimination. They want an end to stigmatization and a little more compassion and support.

The event was organized by the National AIDS Authority in the Ministry of Health in collaboration with United Nations Theme Group (UNTG) and other development partners working in Cambodia.

Dr. Nuth Sokhom, Senior Minister and Chairman of the National AIDS Authority (NAA) said that it marked the tenth year that NAA has organized this important event in Cambodia.

Dr. Sokhom said the purpose of the event is to remember the dead. The gathering will also call for more support from political leaders, scientists and executives. They will also seek access to up-to-date scientific information on HIV/AIDS. The gathering will also raise their profile in the communities within which they live leading to active community participation to response to HIV/AIDS. Overall, they seek an end to discrimination.

“HIV/AIDS is still a serious problem for all the world’s people, but especially for countries that lack human and financial resources. Since the first Cambodian case of HIV was detected in 1991, it has had a serious impact on the individual, the family, the community and the economy,” he said during opening remarks delivered to the Candlelight Memorial Day.

According to a Ministry of Health report, over 50,000 Cambodians live with HIV/AIDS. Of this number, 38,000 patients receive Anti-Retroviral (ARV) Treatment; 3,300 Cambodian children live with HIV/AIDS and of this number, 3,205 receive ARV treatment. HIV has claimed over 100,000 lives in Cambodia since 1991.

“Despite the seriousness of the situation, a solution to the social dimension can be found if we look optimistically at the matter and if we commit to sincere and open activity. With these motivations in mind, we have been able to reverse the course of HIV/AIDS; we have seen a drop in the prevalence from 3 percent in 1998 to 0.7 percent in 2008. This welcome trend looks set to continue into the future,” he added.

The Chairman pointed out that this year’s Candlelight Memorial Day provides an excellent opportunity for people to meet together to recall the thousands of victims. It would also provide another opportunity to reinforce various HIV/AIDS prevention measures to prevent a second wave of infections. The gathering demonstrates support for People Living With HIV/AIDS, and recognized their right to live in a society without suffering discrimination.

“I want to see this campaign organized annually throughout the country. We may be able to turn it into a powerful and sustainable front against HIV/AIDS in our country and beyond,” he said. “I believe that we will get nowhere in this fight without our commitment to a unified national strategy, one national coordinating body and one monitoring and evaluation system. This means the government must play a leading and proprietary role, with participation and support from development partners, civil society, the business sector and of course, PLWHA.”

Savina Ammassaari, UNTG representative, said that this year’s event has been organized under the banner “Together, we are the Solution”. In participating, Cambodia joins one hundred other countries around the world in unity, solidarity and compassion for the suffering.

“We all know that AIDS is not transmitted through friendship. Therefore, there is no such reason to discriminate against the afflicted,” she said. “However, we should remember that someone in our family could fall victim, they could be our friends; we should instead do everything it takes to make sure that they can also enjoy life just like everyone else. Your engagement can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people around the country.”

She continued that despite progress in increasing access to prevention, care and treatment, there are still many new infections in Cambodia every day, while globally around 7,500 people are affected on a daily base.

“Therefore, as ever, we must continue to ensure that People Living With HIV/AIDS remain at the centre of the response, that the response remains inclusive and fosters full participation of civil society and particularly vulnerable groups including affected families, entertainment workers DU (Drug Users)-IDU (Injecting Drug Users) and SMS (Men who have Sex with Men) ,” she said.

To reduce the rate of new affections, Dr. Sokhom has appealed to all Cambodian people to update their knowledge of the disease regularly. She requested all people in the high-risk categories to seek counseling voluntarily and take a blood test to clarify their status. She also pleaded with all PLWHA to live with hope as each year the ARV treatments improve as new discoveries are made. In addition, PLWHA must never deviate from the advice given to them from medical authorities. Lastly, PLWHA must learn that they have the support and the protection of the Rule of Law, just like everyone else. They should therefore live positively in the community and society as others do.

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