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Cambodia's new 'killing field'

AIDS epidemic is Asia's worst

July 24, 1997
Web posted at: 2:22 p.m. EDT (1822 GMT)

From Reporter John Raedler

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia has the worst AIDS epidemic in Asia, an outbreak growing at one of the fastest rates in the world, according to a recently published report by the World Health Organization. A visit to the capital city's Toul Kork Street shows why.


In a country where commercial sex is rampant, the young women on Toul Kork Street sell themselves for as little as 6 cents. Up to 60 percent of them are infected with HIV, but few seem to know anything about the virus.

The phenomenally fast spread of HIV in Cambodia has been almost exclusively through heterosexual means and in a majority of cases has involved prostitutes.

In the under-resourced HIV unit at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital, Mam Bun Than is dying of advanced AIDS. He and his doctor are in no doubt as to how he was infected.

"He go, from time to time, to see the prostitute," the doctor tells CNN.

A common pattern finds prostitutes infecting men, who then infect their wives or girlfriends.

Mom Srey is such a victim. She says she was infected by her husband and is now near death. Her baby son died from AIDS two months ago.

In a population of 10 million, Mom Srey is one of 120,000 Cambodians carrying HIV.


Cambodia's soaring infection rate suggests an AIDS catastrophe here within just a few years.

In fact, some doctors warn that only immediate and major intervention can prevent another "killing fields," a reference to the Cambodian genocide in which up to 2 million people were killed by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

Help does exist, ranging from money donated by international governments to condom distribution carried out by non-governmental organizations.

But close observers of the crisis say the international community -- and the Cambodian government -- must do more.

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