Drug users in Cambodia have adopted a new way of marketing their blood to hospitals to pay for their habits. Health experts warn that if this practice is not curbed in time, it would serve as a severe threat to the country's gains in fighting HIV/AIDS.
So far, there has been no report of spread of the deadly infection by blood transfusions. It is however predicted that if the infection entered the hospital system, even a single case would lead to a disaster.
Heroin users who injected the drug through contaminated syringes share the utmost risk of contracting the infection. Amphetamine users are also considered high risk because the stimulant clouds their judgment, making them prone for unsafe sex practices.
It has been found from a survey conducted by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime that some Cambodian drug addicts were working in teams, towards selling their blood through brokers who in turn supply the same to different hospitals. The frequency of selling ranges to as high as twice a week and earns $4.80 each time.
Officially, all blood used by hospitals in Cambodia is supposed to be
tested for the presence of infection at the state-run National Blood Transfusion Center. If the blood is tested positive, it is discarded.
Lack of adequate funds for health maintenance and acute shortage of healthy blood donors is believed to have paved way for the current trend.
A large sex industry, traditional male promiscuity and low levels of
condom use in Cambodia has been held responsible for the highest prevalence of HIV infection rates in Asia.
Educational campaigns over the past seven years have to a large extent helped in bringing down the rate from 3.8 to 1.9 among people aged between 15 to 49 years.
Cambodian authorities have been too relaxed about handling the drug trade, leading to a steady increase of methamphetamine and heroin use
since the 1990s. Sleeping on the streets and often drifting from one location to another to avoid the police, addicts usually scavenge for cans and plastic bottles to sell.
Alarmingly, many drug users admitted to loitering outside the hospital when they were bored, hoping to be called in to sell blood.
The practice of blood-selling was uncovered by a UNODC survey of 66
drug users in the capital Phnom Penh and Poipet town near the border with Thailand.
With such a threat it is high time the Government authorities find out ways of reducing the risk of spread of HIV infections through blood transfusion.