A Reminder of Cambodia’s Battle With AIDS

Tears trickled down the cheeks of two orphans who spoke during a Monday morning ceremony in the park near Phnom Penh’s Wat Bo­tum to mark World Aids Day 2008.

Hundreds of high school students chatted through most of the celebration, but the sentimental speech of 13-year-old Phan Meas and 17-year-old Kai Chanra—who are both HIV-positive—gripped much of the audience, including Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, who dried her eyes throughout the orphans’ testimony.

“I am crying because I remember my past,” said Kai Chanra, a 10th-grade student at Hun Sen Takhmau High School, after she spoke to the crowd.

“I miss my mom,” added Phan Meas, 13, who is one of more than 300 youth HIV/AIDS patients at the Friends Helping Friends medical center. “My dad passed away when I was 3, and my mom passed away when I was 6 years old.”  The plight of Kai Chanra and Phan Meas illustrates the urgency of Cambodia’s battle against HIV and AIDS, Bun Rany said, during her keynote address.

HIV/AIDS is a widespread problem, Bun Rany said: “Not only common people but also high ranking officials can get AIDS if they are careless,” she told the audience, which contained do­zens of uniformed RCAF soldiers and national police officers.

Cambodia has had considerable success lowering the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, but there is still much work to be done, particularly for those living with the disease, said Alice Levisay, of UNAIDS.

“First and foremost among these challenges must be our unstinting responsibility—individual and collective—to halt stigma and discrimination, not only towards people living with HIV, but also toward other members of our society: men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers.”

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