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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Rupert Everett reports on AIDS
Rupert Everett
It's estimated that 5 million people a year across the globe are infected by AIDS.

In Bangkok at the fifteenth annual international conference on AIDS, policymakers disagreed over the best way forward. Do you preach abstinence or condoms?

Although most of the world's AIDS patients live in Africa, the disease has spread rapidly through parts of Asia. We sent the star of Shrek 2, actor and activist Rupert Everett, to South East Asia to report for Newsnight on the growing epidemic.

RUPERT EVERETT:
More than 20,000 people have descended on Bangkok this week for the 15th international aids conference. I have travelled in from Cambodia, where I have spent a week visiting projects supported by the Global Fund. Cambodia is a beautiful country, but one that has been systematically battered by war and suffered the unimaginable horror of genocide in its recent past. Now it faces a new battle. A life and death struggle to contain an AIDS epidemic that has left the country with the highest HIV infection rate in Asia. Day break, in Phnom Penh. The city's residents are getting their workouts in early to beat the stifling tropical heat. The capital's streets brim with rush-hour traffic. Down the road, smart new hotels signal a tourist renaissance. But away from the hustle and bustle, the country's terrible poverty becomes apparent. Lam Eng lives in a rundown suburb, Phnom Penh. Like most Cambodians I met, she lives on less than $1 a day. Like 3% of Cambodia's population of 13 million, she's HIV-positive. She's HIV-positive. 25 Cambodians become infected every day. Almost half aren't traditionally high risk groups like drug users or sex workers, they are housewives like Lam Eng. She found out she was HIV-positive a year ago and was infected by her husband.

LAM ENG:
(TRANSLATION)

If I am angry, what can I do? It has happened.

EVERETT:
Her husband, Borima, was a soldier in the Cambodian army. Now he is in the advanced stages of AIDS. He has TB and is almost blind. He used to use sex workers all the time in the army and never worried about disease.

BORIMA:
(TRANSLATION)

Soldiers never really thought about that. We just want to have fun. In the evening we enjoyed a meal, go to restaurants and lounges. We all did the same. We knew about condoms but ignored the advice. We claimed we didn't know how to use them. We were drunk, we just said "there is no need to use it" we just went ahead and had sex.

EVERETT:
Two hours' drive from the home of Borima and Lam Eng, I visit the Wat Opot Sanctuary. Most of the men, women and children here have HIV. Sen Lay lives at the centre with her son. She earns money weaving silk cloth. Her husband died of AIDS last year.

SEN LAY:
(TRANSLATION)

I myself am an orphan. I live with my aunt and uncle. But when they were drunk they would beat me, so I can't live with them.

EVERETT:
Despite her tragic story, Sen Lay hasn't given up hope. Wat Opot shows what can be achieved with money from the international community. I campaign for the Global Fund, one the world's biggest AIDS charities. It has spent more than $9 million in Cambodia last year, helping to support centres like this.

WAYNE MATTHYSSE:
(ADVISER, WAT OPOT PROJECT)

People come here because it is a healthy environment. It has open air and it is a relaxing environment. So people that are malnourished from TB or AIDS can come here and within a few days are usually feeling pretty good and walking around.

EVERETT:
A Christian missionary in Buddhist Cambodia, Wayne believes the country's religion is a valuable source of strength for the people here. That Buddhist tradition goes back centuries. Walking around the temples of Angkor is really breathtaking. The orange-robed monks are a fantastic contrast to the ancient grey stone. They are also being asked to speak out in the fight against AIDS. And education is the key. In a village not far from the temples, schoolchildren are getting a lesson in safe sex. They are playing a game to teach them about the risks from HIV. Kannya is 12 years' old. She tells me how the game works.

KANNYA:
(TRANSLATION)

There are two types of people, one using a condom correctly, the other is not using one, or using it wrongly.

EVERETT:
And when did you first hear about HIV and STDs?

KANNYA:
(TRANSLATION)

I didn't understand about AIDS and condoms before coming to this school.

EVERETT:
The game is a graphic depiction of life here. Two children end up being tagged HIV-positive. Borima and Lam Eng played no such games growing up. I catch up with them waiting for a check-up at the Centre of Hope clinic with their friends Sopheap and Sokhum who are also HIV positive.

SOPHEAP:
(TRANSLATION)

I found out this time last year. I have been sick for five years.

SOKHUM:
(TRANSLATION)

I found out same time as my husband last year. I brought him to the hospital for a blood test and when he tested positive, I decided to check and found out that I was positive too.

EVERETT:
Sopheap and Sokhum are on anti-retroviral drugs, access is increasing in Cambodia, but they are still in painfully short supply. Without them the average life expectancy for someone with HIV here is just six years. At this smart new villa, people with AIDS get a level of healthcare far removed from anything they have encountered before. A few are on anti-retroviral drugs but unfortunately they have probably come too late. At Phnom Penh hospital in the reality of healthcare for most Cambodians it is a daily lottery. Many people have travelled for hours to take part. The prize is an appointment just to see the doctor. Ten people are the lucky ones today. Public healthcare in Cambodia is a lottery. Corruption is rife. At least this is fair. Those who haven't won will come back tomorrow, as they have for weeks. Later I visit a brothel on the other side of town where the girls are watching a performance about AIDS and safe sex. Upstairs, Oun is getting a health check. She's from a village outside Phnom Penh. She says she's 18. All the money she earns here goes to her family. Oun knows the importance of condoms and insists her clients use them.

OUN:
(TRANSLATION)

I tell them "If you don't use a condom, I will not have sex with you." I'm afraid of AIDS. If I get infected, nobody will take care of my family. I'm still very young.

EVERETT:
It's much harder to refuse sex in the rundown brothels of the slums, where girls can earn twice as much from clients that don't want to wear a condom, but the message is getting through. The number of sex workers with HIV has fallen sharply.

DR TIA PHALLA:
(DIRECTOR, NATIONAL AIDS AUTHORITY)

Since the HIV, AIDS is now widespread and generalised, and we are having a major epidemic right now, we need to mobilise everybody to fight against HIV and AIDS.

EVERETT:
Back on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, I meet HIV sufferers making a living will. They are asking for better medical care and people to look after the loved ones they leave behind. Lam Eng also has hopes for w she's gone. She has a 10 year old daughter who is not infected.

LAM ENG:
(TRANSLATION)

If something happens to me I will leave my daughter with my mother.

EVERETT:
She's lucky to have one. War and genocide wiped out over 2 million of Cambodia's older generation. Now AIDS is threatening to decimate a new one, raising the heartbreaking question, who will look after those who remain? I can't imagine living in a country like this, when you really have nothing. People are living on the street, you have full blown ADIS and TB and you've got nowhere to go, no water to drink, no food to eat, no clothes to wear and you've got no health service whatsoever. It makes you feel very different about the life we have. In Bangkok the pressure is on to demonstrate that this weeks' conference is more than just a talking shop or a showcase for the Thai government. As much as $60 million will be spent here this week. Is it all worth it?

PROFESSOR JOEP MALNGE:
(CHAIR, WORLD AIDS CONFERENCE)

Yeah, I think it's all worth it. These conferences can be tremendously important. I think bringing the conference to Thailand will do tremendous things for Asia.

EVERETT:
The UN warned last week that Asia is facing an AIDS catastrophe. More that 1 million new people became infected with AIDS in the last year alone. Across the globe, by the time this week's conference ends, another 80,000 people will be HIV-positive.

PROFESSOR RICHARD FEACHAM:
(EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GLOBAL FUND)

The world is beginning to wake up to the true enormity of the HIV AIDS pandemic around the world. HIV AIDS in southern Africa has reduced life expectancy by 30 years. We are beginning to wake up to it. But there is still more engagement and more leadership from political leaders that's necessary.

EVERETT:
And more drugs. The theme of the conference is access for all. And a target of 3 million people on anti-retroviral drugs by 2005 has been set. But it is an optimistic one. Cambodia's genocide museum can provide a haunting lesson of what can happen when we fail in our international responsibilities. Without more drugs and more money, it won't be the last.


This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.



WATCH AND LISTEN
Rupert Everett
reported for Newsnight from the international AIDS conference in Bangkok on the epidemic in South East Asia.



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