Success Story: HIV/AIDS Programs Changing Male Behavior in Cambodia
The crowded, raucous beer gardens of Phnom Penh don’t always make the best classrooms, admits Ky Sok Ly. A university student by day, Ky transforms into a roving teacher by night to educate groups of men about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get their attention when they’ve been drinking,” Ky said. “But most men are eager to hear our message so they can protect themselves from disease.”
Ky, 21, is one of 48 outreach specialists in Cambodia working in entertainment establishments. Operating in pairs, the specialists engage men in five-minute discussions about HIV/AIDS and sexual health.
For example, a team might approach a group of men and show them photos of five women. The team would ask the men which women look infected with HIV and which do not, in order to prompt a discussion about the dangers of assessing a person’s HIV status based on appearance.
Launched in June 2008 by USAID and funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the program has already reached 161,000 men. It is one of a series of USAID programs that target male clients of sex workers in an attempt to correct what had been an unbalanced focus on women promote condom use and other behaviors to prevent the spread of HIV.
Over the last 10 years, Cambodia has been a rare success story in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. By promoting condom use in brothels, the country cut its HIV prevalence rate in half from 2 percent in 1998 to less than 1 percent in 2007. The prevalence rate among sex workers fell by 66 percent in that same period.
USAID has been the largest HIV donor in Cambodia since 1994.
However, in recent years men have increasingly sought sexual partners in karaoke bars and other entertainment venues, where they perceive the women to be less risky than in brothels. A recent police crackdown on brothels has accelerated this shift. In entertainment venues, it is common for male patrons to meet “sweethearts,”or semi-regular mistresses, with whom they exchange money and gifts for sex.
USAID data show that while condom use is high among brothel-based sex workers, it is considerably lower among other entertainment workers. According to many entertainment workers, a major barrier to condom use is the attitudes of their male sexual partners.
A reality television show called “You’re the Man,” which challenges male norms and promotes male responsibility, started up in July. M.Style, a health campaign launched in late 2008, uses social clubs and internet chat rooms to encourage men who have sex with men to protect themselves from disease.
Ky is pleased to be part of these efforts to reach high-risk men. “I’m learning skills that will help me later in life. Most important, I’m helping Cambodia develop by keeping my people healthy,” she said.
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