Beating stigma: HIV prevention for men in Cambodia

“My life is much better today,”says Hout Sotha, a 27-year old transgender woman. “We have changed some bad attitudes and we always use condoms when we have sex. When we have medical problems we go directly to the health centre for services”.

This is a big change from before, when she felt stigmatised in society. “Most people in our community now do not discriminate against us. Now, I and my friend can go anywhere with full confidence” she says.

© 2006 Eugenie Dolgberg for the Alliance

“Most men who have sex with men are hidden and reluctant to show their identity."

— Chin Bunrath

Preventing HIV

Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in Cambodia are at a higher risk of HIV when compared to the overall population. It is therefore vital to tackle stigma and discrimination and reach MSM and transgender people with prevention services.

KHANA, the Alliance Linking Organisation in Cambodia, supports prevention projects for people at higher risk of HIV. KHANA supports an organisation called ‘Men’s Health Social Service’ (MHSS) in Kampong Chhnang province.

“Most men who have sex with men are hidden and reluctant to show their identity as it invites stigma from their community and family”, says Chin Bunrath, a MHSS team leader in Cambodia who works with the MSM and transgender community.

So MHSS works through peer educators and facilitators. They run education sessions on preventing HIV, refer individuals to voluntary counselling and testing services, and give advice on income generation.

“The target group were interested in access to free health services and free condoms because MSM who were poor could not afford those services,” says Chin Bunrath. Dr. Nhen Chantha, the STI Clinical Director at Kompong Chnang hospital notices the difference the work makes. “Since the project has been implementing activities we have received almost weekly visits from MSM coming to our office.”

MHSS also supports livelihoods. For example, Hout Southa received help to improve her business, with a grant from KHANA and MHSS. She runs a small beauty salon shop and used the funds to buy new equipment.

Changing attitudes

MHSS’s work is not just about reaching MSM and transgender people. It also aims to change attitudes of the wider community to make a real impact on reducing stigma and discrimination. The staff does this through working with local authorities and by organising special events and campaigns that target communities.

This article was based on a case study written by Mok Sokha, a Key Correspondent in Cambodia. You can download the full case study here