Government Target for Eliminating HIV Pushed Back Five Years

Two years after Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to eliminate new HIV infections by 2020, projections indicate the government will need another five years to reach its target.

Under pressure to increase government spending on HIV prevention and treatment initiatives in the face of donor funding cuts, Mr. Hun Sen declared the government would “not allow any successful program to go bankrupt” and allocated $3.7 million toward the efforts.

Compared to more than $224 committed by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria since 2003, the number is small, but still significant for a government that has almost entirely relied on donors in the past.

While the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS has drawn international praise following a drop in the rate of infection among people aged 15 to 49—from 1.7 percent in 1998 to 0.6 percent last year—both the government and NGOs are grappling with a lack of funding and other challenges in meeting the goal.

In February, the Ministry of Health revised its plan for the elimination of new HIV infections—meaning fewer than 300 new cases being identified annually—pushing back the target date to 2025.

In a report, the ministry estimates that newly identified cases would be no higher than 474 per year by 2020 and gradually decline to a “virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2025.”

In addition to external funding cuts, domestic migration, a lack of HIV awareness among young people and a poorly funded public health sector were contributing factors behind the decision to revise the target, UNAIDS country representative Marie-Odile Emond said on Thursday.

“The new target is by 2025 and we think there is a consensus that it’s probably realistic,” she said . “It is still five years before the global target so Cambodia would still be one of the first countries to achieve this.”

UNAIDS estimates that 73,000 Cambodians have HIV, or 0.6 percent of the adult population, and 15,000 of them have not been identified, she said.

“It’s a bigger challenge than we expected,” Ms. Emond said of reaching the elimination target. “You realize that it still requires big investments. You need to maintain the effort and at the same time adopt new approaches.”

Ly Penh Sun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, said on Wednes­day that donors had called for the government be more self-reliant and spend more of its own limited funds on prevention and treatment.

“That’s very challenging,” he said. “The transition is very difficult.”

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