Determining barriers to creating an enabling environment in Cambodia: results from a baseline study with key populations and police.
Schneiders ML., Weissman A.
INTRODUCTION: Cambodian law enforcement's limited acceptance of harm reduction has hindered HIV program effectiveness. With funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, FHI 360 supported the Ministry of Interior to implement the Police Community Partnership Initiative (PCPI) in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. To guide this, FHI 360 conducted a baseline study examining police and key populations' attitudes and practices towards one another, including fear and occurrence of arrest. METHODS: Between December 2012 and January 2013, a cross-sectional survey of 199 police post officers, 199 people who use drugs (PWUD) including people who inject drugs (PWID), 199 men who have sex with men (MSM), 200 transgender women (TGW) and 200 female entertainment workers (FEW) was conducted in five Phnom Penh districts. Eligible participants were ≥18 years, members of a key population from selected hotspots or police officers, deputy chiefs or chiefs. RESULTS: Key populations' median age was 25 years (IQR: 22-30); 40% had completed only primary school. Police were male (99.5%), with median age 43 years (IQR: 30 to 47), and 45 and 25% high school and university completion rates, respectively. Key populations feared arrest for carrying needles and syringes (67%), condoms (23%) and 19% felt afraid to access health services. Close to 75% of police reported body searching and 58% arresting key populations in the past six months for using drugs (64%), selling or distributing drugs (36%) or being violent (13%). Self-reported arrests (23% PWUD, 6% MSM, 6% TGW, 12% FEW; p<0.05), being verbally threatened (45% PWUD, 21% MSM, 25% TGW, 27% FEW; p<0.001) and body searched (44% PWUD, 28% MSM, 23% TGW, 8% FEW; p<0.001) was significantly higher among PWUD than other key populations. The majority (94%) of police believed arrest was an appropriate solution to reduce HIV and drug use and reported selling sex (88%) and carrying needles and syringes (55%) as valid reasons for arrest. CONCLUSIONS: Key populations' fear of accessing harm reduction and health services and police's negative attitudes and practices towards key populations present major barriers to HIV prevention efforts in Cambodia. To create an enabling environment and ensure police are allies in the Cambodian HIV response, interventions should tackle underlying negative attitudes among police towards key populations and vice versa.