Caring for a Captive Audience

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Dear Sir,
 
Ahead of World AIDS Day, ARV Users Association (AUA) highlights its work with one of Cambodia’s least visible key populations vulnerable to HIV: prisoners.
 
Tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day – a time to celebrate Cambodia’s achievements in the response to HIV. It’s also an occasion to reflect on the country’s journey ahead and to focus attention on one of the least-visible key populations at risk for HIV: prisoners.
 
Cambodia is on the fast-track to achieving virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2025, but in order to become one of the first countries in the region to do so, it’s necessary to sustain and upscale HIV services for prisoners and other people living in closed settings.
 
AUA is currently undertaking a new research project with technical support from UNAIDS to highlight the impact of civil society in facilitating HIV services for this key population.
 
HIV-positive prisoners are particularly vulnerable – often lacking a social support network and facing notable difficulties in accessing and adhering to treatment.
 
To support this population, AUA initiated its Prison Project in 2012 at the invitation of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department and in close collaboration with the General Department of Prisons and National Center  for HIV/AIDS Dermatology and STDs.
 
AUA is the only NGO of its kind offering services alongside health post staff in Correctional Centers 1 and 2 (Prey Sar Prison).
 
“For group discussions, we call up the prisoners who have HIV and we have them come together. At one time we have 15-20 prisoners that join for a group meeting,” says Ung Sopheak, AUA’s Project Assistant and a counselor at Prey Sar.
 
“We provide education on how to take care of their health and how to take medicine regularly. I tell them, ‘You have a life. If you don’t want to take your medicine, the virus will increase. Eat healthy: if you have good health then you can work like the others’.
 
“I try to encourage them, to motivate them.”
 
In addition to facilitated group sessions, AUA staff offer individual counseling alongside voluntary HIV finger-prick testing. AUA is responsible for managing prisoners’ HIV referrals, facilitating testing and results, and providing sick and hospitalized prisoners with food packages to support their recovery.
 
AUA plays a vital role in tracing HIV-positive prisoners upon their entry to the prison, ensuring continuity of care, providing much-needed psychosocial support for those who are diagnosed inside the prison and identifying vulnerable prisoners who are at risk of non-adherence, both during detention and after release.
 
“He [AUA staff member] told me to come and get [HIV] drugs from the health center. He told me the location of the health center here, he provided directions,” says Mithona*, a former inmate who has continued to access treatment at an AUA-supported clinic following his release from CC1.
 
As awareness of AUA’s services inside the prison grow, demand too is increasing. At Prey Sar, AUA currently provides services to 100 prisoners living with HIV, up from 83 prisoners in December 2015.
 
As part of its mission to empower people living with HIV from all walks of life, AUA is committed to improving health outcomes for prisoners. This World AIDS Day, we highlight AUA’s work inside Prey Sar and draw attention to this invisible key population.
 
AUA requires ongoing financial support to provide these much-needed services to prisoners.
 
About AUA: AUA is a membership-based association of people living with HIV. Founded by a group of patients at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in 2002, AUA registered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior in 2003.
 
AUA now employs 43 staff – 85 percent of whom live with HIV – to manage patient reception and triage, counseling and group work in nine ART clinics across Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham province.
 
For further information or to obtain a quote, please contact: ARV Users Association (AUA), Mr. Heng Chheangkim (Kim), Program Manager/Fundraiser: [email protected] (+855) 17 81 94 81.
 
* Name changed to protect privacy.

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