It all started in 2002, when a small group of friends began gathering in front of the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh. The friends were all patients at the hospital’s recently opened anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy unit, and they met regularly to discuss their HIV treatment and other issues affecting their lives.
Without any access to support services inside the hospital, the friends found comfort in each others' company. Their regular meetings provided an opportunity for mutual support, understanding and advice. Anyone was welcome to join them. As the group grew, it continued to be facilitated on a voluntary basis with no formal structure or support.
In 2003, two hospital staff and 10 patient volunteers were nominated to start organizing the association and its activities. Then, in December of the same year, the ARV Users Association was officially registered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior.
That small group of friends has grown to include more than 2,000 members from across Cambodia.
With its innovative approach to patient care and ability to fill vital gaps in Cambodia’s healthcare system, AUA began attracting support from international donors. Supported by Médecins Sans Frontières - France, AUA opened its first office inside the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital in January 2005. A flagship regional office opened in Kampong Cham province the following year.
Today, AUA works in nine sites, employs 41 staff, and facilitates treatment and counseling for more than 7,000 people every year.
AUA's main priority is to assist in- and out-patients who are undergoing Pre-ARV/ARV treatment to maintain holistic health. To do this, AUA has expanded its reach to include activities in positive prevention, community outreach, advocacy and leadership, and capacity building.
From small beginnings, AUA has grown and diversified, but it is still an association of members. AUA maintains close links with Cambodia’s HIV/AIDS community through relationships built on trust. Part of AUA’s continuing vision is to actively promote the involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS in the organization’s planning and governance.
86% of AUA’s current staff live with HIV, 60% of our management team are women, and many staff come from ethnic backgrounds.
Cambodia has made excellent progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past decade, and AUA is proud of the role it has played in these achievements. But there is still a lot of work to do. AUA’s current projects focus on ensuring equitable access to healthcare, activating HIV/AIDS Law, eliminating discrimination, and facilitating leadership and capacity building.
AUA is recognized by the Cambodian Government and international bodies such as the World Health Organization, USAID and UNAIDS for its expertise and role in the Pre-ART/ART structure. With more than 15 years’ experience engaging the community at a grassroots level, AUA is constantly adapting its services and approach to secure the best health outcomes possible for people living with HIV/AIDS and most-at-risk populations.