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International News

Cambodian Drug Users Raise New AIDS Threat

November 15, 2005

A survey finding some Cambodian intravenous drug users (IDUs) are selling their blood to hospitals to pay for drugs is troubling officials and experts, who warn the practice could spread HIV to people who would otherwise have little chance of acquiring it. Cambodia has no known case of HIV transmission via transfusion, but even one case "would be a disaster," said Dr. Massimo Ghidinelli, a World Health Organization adviser on HIV/AIDS in the country. Heroin injectors are the group most at risk of transmitting HIV by sharing contaminated needles.

A recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime survey of 66 drug users from Phnom Penh and Thailand-bordering Poipet discovered that some IDUs worked in "teams, taking turns selling their blood" to brokers who supplied it to hospitals. Making $4.80 for each 0.74 pint of blood, an IDU could donate as often as twice a week, said Kathryn O'Connell, the report's author.

Sleeping on the streets and drifting along to avoid the police, IDUs usually scavenge for cans and plastic bottles to sell. But several IDUs reported when they feel lazy, they can loiter outside a hospital, waiting to be called in to sell their blood.

Officially, Cambodia tests all blood used in hospital transfusions at the state-run National Blood Transfusion Center and discards tainted blood, said Nhem Thuok, the center's director.

However, the nation's decrepit and poorly funded health system faces a dearth of healthy blood donors. Having instead to rely on paid donors, the health system often did not follow correct testing procedures. "That's not good for a sustainable and high standard blood transfusion service," said Ghidinelli.

Back to other news for November 15, 2005

Adapted from:
Associated Press
11.11.2005; Ker Munthit

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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