Your Phnom Penh sexual health questions … answered
There’s no denying that Phnom Penh is a great place to visit – and to party – but don’t forget to take care of yourself while you are here! I’ve already covered what to do if you get sick in Cambodia, but today I’ll cover everyone’s favourite topic – sexual health.
I’ve enlisted Emily Potter, an Australian registered nurse working with Marie Stopes International in Cambodia, to help answer some of your burning questions.
How prevalent is HIV in Cambodia?
“The most recent estimate is that 0.8% of the general population has HIV. This is considered fairly low compared to other developing countries but you still need to be careful out there! The prevalence of HIV increases to 14% in female entertainment workers and 2.1% for men who have sex with men,” says Nurse Potter.
Will I be able to get my preferred brand of birth control in Cambodia?
Usually, yes. Condoms are available at supermarkets and pharmacies, including brand names like Durex and others imported from elsewhere in Asia.
Oral contraceptives are also available, but possibly not under the name you are used to; the same formulas are released under different brand names in different countries. Depending on which pharmacy you go to, you might get brands from Australia, France or beyond. Write down (or check online) the brand name, manufacturer and dose of oestrogen and/or progesterone and any other ingredients in your current pill, or bring an empty packet with you. You can bring this to one of Phnom Penh’s reliable pharmacies, the U-Care chain or Pharmacie De La Gare at the corner of Monivong and St 108, to identify the same product as you are already using.
Nurse Potter warns that it can be difficult to find progesterone-only pills in Cambodia, and there is the risk of fake medications. “There’s a lot of counterfeit medication in Cambodia and so while a brand might sound familiar, it could be made up of inferior medication. Always buy medication in branded, blister packed supplies, check the company of manufacture and check the expiry date before purchasing. Do not buy any unmarked tablets dispensed in bags.”
The depo injection, implant and the copper IUD are available. Contact SOS for information and referral. The patch, ring and diaphragm are not sold in Cambodia.
Are Cambodian-brand condoms like OK and Number 1 as reliable as condoms from home?
OK and Number 1 are condoms released by PSI (an NGO) targeting low income populations. “A condom is a condom, so should be no different in quality than those back home — but you aren’t going to get the same variety of flavours and features — so perhaps bring your favourite brand along,” Nurse Potter advised.
It’s also worth noting that condoms in Cambodia may be more likely to break due to exposure to light and heat. So do make sure to purchase them from air-conditioned shops, check the expiry date and don’t use it if the condom feels dry, sticky or brittle.
Incidentally, the lubricant on Number 1 condoms has been touted as a cure for acne.
Do I need to worry about picking up an STI from a sex worker?
Yes! That said, you should also worry about catching an STI from backpackers (and actually, anyone). STIs are on the rise in Cambodia, and risk of contracting an STI/HIV is always a possibility in any casual sex encounter, regardless of the occupation of the person. Remember, some STIs such as HPV and herpes are passed on through skin contact, so can still be transmitted even when a condom is worn.
Lina’s note: Anecdotal information from some backpackers I’ve talked to is that women who have sex for money are sometimes not up front about their line of work — if you take a Khmer girl home, perhaps check the “terms and conditions” first.
You can access STI screening and treatment at SOS International, or Dr Gavin Scott is known for his non-judgmental (and amusing) screenings.
Are abortions legal in Cambodia?
Abortion was legalised in 1997. Nurse Potter says at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, abortions are legal on demand in Cambodia, meaning that no specific reason is needed to request an abortion. After 12 weeks the law restricts abortions to certain situations only.
“Safe abortion services are available for nationals and foreigners and there are two methods prescribed,” she explains, “medical abortion, up to 9 weeks gestation, using the registered drug Medabon and aspirate abortion, a manual vacuum suction procedure up to 12 weeks gestation.” Contact Marie Stopes International for details.
Dr Scott Travellers Medical Clinic
No. 88, St. 108 (Wat Phnom Quarter), Phnom Penh
T: (o23) 306 802/ (012) 898 981
House 161, Street 51, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 216 911
Marie Stopes International
No. 15, National Road No 1, Chbar Ampeou II, Meanchey, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 720 125; (077) 959 169
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