© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
The HIV epidemic breaches boundaries of gender, geography, race, religion and age to impact everyone and threaten families and communities. Risks multiply in urban settings, especially for Cambodia’s young people and those in socially marginalized groups such as drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
A 2010 survey on young people most at risk of HIV, carried out by the Government with UNICEF support, revealed that alcohol use was high among young people – 70 per cent among young women and 91 per cent among young men – and both female and male participants had used illicit drugs. While almost 14 per cent of sexually active females reported they had used drugs, only 0.4 per cent who had never had sex reported using drugs. Moreover, while more than 41 per cent of male and 23 per cent of female participants were sexually active, condom use with boyfriends or girlfriends was alarmingly low – 31 per cent among females and 58 per cent among males. There are strong interactions between all of these risk behaviours, with low use of health services and HIV prevention programmes.
Although the government has taken important steps in containing the spread of HIV, the national prevention programme is fragmented, and the overlapping risks and vulnerabilities affecting most at risk populations urgently need to be addressed. A potential resurgence of the epidemic among most at risk populations, particularly involving adolescents and young people, is raising new concern.
Evolving cultural norms add a new layer of danger for young people. Dating and sex before marriage among the nation’s youth have replaced the traditional practice of arranged marriage. Lack of education and awareness about risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases leaves many young couples to engage in unsafe sex.
UNICEF supports the government to improve access to and use of HIV-related information and services for Cambodia’s young people, using targeted, comprehensive and rights based approaches to prevent the spread of HIV.
What we do
- Support the government and civil society organizations to expand coverage and quality of age-appropriate information, skills and services to most at risk young people.
- Advocate for improved national data on key populations at higher risk of HIV to be broken down by age and sex.
- Support the expansion of targeted HIV communication efforts, including active promotion of information about prevention of mother-to-child transmission, voluntary and confidential counselling and testing sites, and sexually transmitted infection facilities to promote positive healthseeking behaviours among those most at risk.
- Support the development of innovative interventions with most at risk young people, addressing overlapping risk behaviours such as drug use, low levels of condom use, multiple concurrent sexual partners and low rates of treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV testing.
- With UN partners, advocate for a policy environment that enables practical and integrated services for young people most at risk in urban “hotspot” areas.
- Support local NGOs to offer age-appropriate harm reduction programmes for young people who use drugs through dropin centre and outreach services.
- Support government and civil society partners to develop comprehensive policies and strategies which protect adolescents and young people most at risk of HIV and violence, exploitation and abuse.
- Develop cost effective demonstration programmes which combine child protection strategies geared towards higher risk young populations, with HIV prevention, treatment and care efforts.
© UNICEF Cambodia/Nicolas Axelrod
More young people have correct knowledge of HIV and AIDS as a result of 12 new workplace committees that provide HIV and AIDS education, reaching 5,114 young female workers through peer education by the end of 2010. An additional 82,423 workers were reached through general health promotion sessions. In tandem, the Inthanou (HIV and AIDS information) hotline has provided young people with ongoing HIV support and information, answering more than 60,000 calls per year with roughly 60 per cent of those calls from young people. A national survey on young people most at risk yielded important results which were used to inform national plans and strategies.
Targeted prevention efforts with young people engaging in high-risk behaviours reached over 8,630 drug users, including 4,599 females, in the Phnom Penh area in 2010. Furthermore, HIV life skills education is now fully integrated into the government’s Child-Friendly Schools programme, reaching 47,530 young students at Grade 5 level in 521 primary schools in Prey Veng province. The approach was adopted as a model for the country under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and was rolled out to 13 other provinces with support from development partners. Important new research on young women and men in the entertainment industry has commenced.