Harm reduction in Cambodia: efforts to get policy to match practice

July 18, 2013

Posted by Mey Sovannara

Senior Communications Officer, KHANA, Cambodia

In the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh there are around 1,300 people who inject drugs, although this statistic is not officially released.

On 12 July 2013, 79 police officials and 28 civil society representatives participated in a sensitisation workshop on community advocacy for harm reduction of HIV and AIDS, drug abuse and human trafficking and minor protection.

The workshop was opened by Dr Oum Sopheap, KHANA executive director, who said: “KHANA is one of many organisations that receive funding for community advocacy (through the EU funded Asia Action on Harm Reduction project) which is coordinated by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, based in the UK.”

Antiretroviral therapy plays an indispensable role in HIV prevention. H.E Mean Chivun, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (NCHADS), said: “HIV infection is still a big concern among populations most at risk – especially people who use drugs, sex workers, and men who have sex with men. HIV prevention reaches between 30% and 40% of people who use drugs in Phnom Penh. Therefore, more cooperation is necessary from law enforcement officials, especially from commune and district police chiefs.”

H.E Tia Phalla, Vice-Chair of the National Audit Authority, said: “Only 400 of the 1,300 people who use drugs in Phnom Penh have received HIV prevention services. Harm reduction and methadone plays a significant role in preventing the spread of HIV among people who use drugs. In the context of implementing the village and commune safety policy and the human trafficking law, most-at-risk population must be guaranteed to receive HIV prevention services.”

General Pen Vibol, director of HIV/AIDS secretariat of the Ministry of Interior, said: “So far, we have organised four similar workshops in Banteay Meanchey, Phnom Penh, and Sihanouk province. Police have been actively involved in HIV prevention since 1997. I recommend that police shall bear another arm to combat HIV epidemic among people who use drugs.”

KHANA has so far collaborated with other harm reduction stakeholders such as the Australian government’s HIV/AIDS Asia regional program (AusAID/HAARP), FHI 360, other CSOs and harm reduction advocates from the region to share best practice examples.

General Meas Virith, deputy-secretary-general of the National Authority for Combatting Drugs (NACD) said that the 2012 drug control law prohibits not only drug trafficking, but also drug use. Drug users might face imprisonment up to six months if they refuse to have their drug dependency treated. He said the law also promotes harm reduction [Articles 45, 53, 100, and 107] and said that police must refer people who use drugs for treatment in cooperation with civil society. However, he expressed that drug traffickers must not be tolerated.

KHANA organises these annual sensitisation workshops on harm reduction in collaboration with the HIV/AIDS secretariat of the Ministry of Interior.  Since 2011 it has run these workshops in the provinces of Stung Treng, Kampong Speu, Banteay Meanchey and Phnom Penh.

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