Phnom Penh 11 June 2014 – Over the last decade, Cambodia has been a rare success story in the global fight against AIDS, cutting its HIV prevalence from an estimated 1.75% in 1998 to a projected 0.7% in 2012. Through improved service delivery and linkages the country has also achieved the universal access target for treatment, with over 80% of women and men, girls and boys in need receiving antiretroviral therapy (NCHADS, 2012a).
Despite these successes, pockets of high prevalence continue to exist, particularly in most-at-risk populations (female and transgender entertainment workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, men and women who inject drugs and male and female prisoners). With 70% of the population in Cambodia below the age of 30, many members of most-at-risk populations (MARPs) are young and engage in multiple and overlapping risk behaviors (NCHADS, 2013b).
Traditional norms and expectations about the proper roles for men and women still permeate Cambodian life and the concept of gender equality is not yet widely understood or accepted as a necessary part of the country development, Cambodia’s HIV-related funding has not, historically, fully addressed the gender dimensions of its HIV epidemic.
This is despite the fact that gender norms shape the status and roles of women and men, girls and boys, determining attitudes towards sex, sexuality, sexual behavior and relationships. In Cambodia, where the principal mode of HIV transmission continues to be heterosexual transmission, these gender norms play a critical role in the exposure to risk and the consequences of HIV infection.
Over half (55%) of the cumulative HIV infection cases in the country are among females, prevention coverage for men who have sex with men and transgender people remains inadequate (Ministry of Health/NCHADS, 2013b), and there is an urgent need to reduce loss to follow-up along the cascade of services for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV (Sovannarith et al, 2012).
These facts indicate gender differences in the utilization of HIV services by different groups of men and women, particularly among most-at risk populations and people living with HIV. It also suggests that despite Cambodia’s impressive gains in reducing HIV rates, more needs to be done to ensure women and men, girls and boys are able to access a comprehensive range of HIV services (Gender Assessment Report-HIV Services-Cambodia 14 November 2013).