"Make every night OK, with OK," the slogan goes, part of a
new initiative to continue Cambodia's
fight against HIV and AIDS.
The slogan was included in the speeches of prominent guests at
an event last week, an occasion for a campaign more like
The OK Condom campaign marks a different approach to the
fight against the disease, at a time when Cambodia's sexual mores are in
flux, and as more and more of the populace are youths.
The lights were turned down, and the event appeared more
like a night in a bar or karaoke club, two of the main targets of the campaign,
which hopes to put condoms that sell three for 500 riel in the hands of young
people who need them.
"It's too dark to read," a jovial Mam Bunheng, the health
minister, said as he prepared to deliver a speech.
When the lights came up a bit, the minister told a story, of
how he once asked a woman about HIV and condoms.
"Do you know how HIV-AIDS is transmitted?" he asked. "The
lady responded: 'Eh, uncle, you don't you watch TV, listen to the radio, or
read the newspaper, do you? AIDS is transmitted by sexual intercourse. It's
easy to avoid it. Just don't have sex; then how can you transmit it?"
The minister, who announced he was 60 years old, laughed
before asking participants to consider the woman's response: "Brothers and
sisters, help me think about this. AIDS comes from sexual intercourse. Just
stop having sex to avoid HIV? I'm afraid we could not endure without it, could
we?" He laughed some more.
Putting aside the abstinence option, he said he had not
tried OK Condoms yet—but he would. He hoped OK would be better than other
brands, and he made an appeal for loyalty in romance, one to one.
"You students, you should try not to have a sex partner, or,
if you have many partners, well we have a stratagem—our friend, OK."
Even in Phnom Penh,
it is difficult to find young men or women who will discuss their sex lives
openly. Side-stepping the issue, Yin Chakrya, a 19-year-old student, said she
knew condoms prevented unwanted pregnancy and that could help with a family's
living conditions. She said that before she marries, she would have her fiancé tested
three times before agreeing.
Young men won't wear condoms, she said, because they believe
their girlfriends are loyal to them. But even if a woman is loyal, if her
partner has many other partners, he could transmit "the killer," she said.
"As far as I know, most students—boys—don't use condoms because
of the feeling of trust," she said. "But they could not know the trust sometimes
is only an appearance that can be faked."
Citing the experiences of friends with boyfriends, she said,
"If she was to use a condom, he said, 'Don't you love me, and don't trust me,
darling? What kind of sweethearts have we been?'"
Yin Chakrya then appealed to girls not to soften their
stance when boys ply them with words. One of her friends was infected with HIV
from a boyfriend, she said, who hid his knowledge about the disease until she
had become pregnant. The baby was aborted, and the mother was HIV positive, Yin
OK Condoms will be marketed to the young, and to the poor.
They will sell at half the price of No. 1 Condoms, which were widely
distributed to brothels and sex workers in the past. No. 1 will remain a free
condom for those who can't afford them at all.
Other targets of the OK campaign will remain the same, sex
workers and clients, men who have sex with men, drug addicts, and those who are
already HIV positive. They will marketed as protection against the disease, but
also against pregnancy, as high numbers of children can put a strain on a
Meanwhile, the affluent remain at risk for HIV, as much as
five times greater, thanks to a habit of drinking outside the home, which can lead
to unsafe sex practices, he said.
Piper Campbell, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, said
for the past 15 years, through PSI, the US
and the UK
had sponsored programs that reduced the highest prevalence of people living
with HIV from 2 percent in 1998 to 0.9 percent in 2006.
has funded programs worth more than $120 million to support the fight against
AIDS, according to an embassy statement. As of Monday, the OK Condom campaign
will be one of these.
San Sophal, a condom vendor from Kampong Thom province, said he expected the condom would sell better than No. 1, because those who buy the
latter are perceived to be about to visit brothels. The OK Condoms will be
better received, he said.
"Some buyers are shy to buy condoms," he said. "They will
buy OK Condoms only."