The story of how Sophy's husband fell ill with AIDS, beside the river at Phnom Penh, is a story about diarrhoea and debt. His death two months ago ended the diarrhoea but it left the debt still to be paid. Sophy tells her tale in a wooden shanty built on stilts. Children carry dirty water from the Tonle Sap through the reed banks below. Two of her own, a boy of four and a girl of two, wriggle listlessly on the boards. When Sophy goes to fetch water, she feels faint. She is HIV-positive. So is the little girl, Sreyvuth. It is too early to tell whether the antibodies which showed up in the test are her mother's or her own. Cambodia has the highest recorded percentage of adults with HIV in Asia, and one of the highest rates of increase. 'There's not much in the way of treatment,' a United Nations official said. 'They are more or less left to die.' There are no cocktails of sophisticated drugs to help those with HIV stave off full-blown AIDS. The only cocktail is the familiar Third World formula of misery, ignorance and official neglect. For Sophy's family, HIV and AIDS was an extra disaster on top of a more familiar one when their shack was wrecked by flooding two years ago. They borrowed money to build higher; then they borrowed more to buy medicine. Altogether it came to US$200 (HK$1,548) at 15 per cent interest - $30 a month. Sophy's story is a tale of misery. 'At first I thought he had diarrhoea because of the alcohol he drank every day. It lasted about three months. 'We went to the hospital and he was told he was HIV-positive. They gave him two pills and the diarrhoea got better. But it was expensive travelling there for more pills. By this time he had skin diseases and slept on the floor. 'He told me he was sorry he had gone out with girls: he drank too much and forgot to protect himself. He died two months ago.' Cambodia's AIDS explosion is part of an Asia-wide epidemic, but it is being accelerated by a male culture which survived the Khmer Rouge. Most Cambodian men, says the human rights activist Dr Kek Galabrou, regard visiting a prostitute as like 'drinking a cup of coffee'. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Cambodia is sponsoring a series of educational television spots and videos to say no to casual sex, or at least use a condom. Sample surveys have shown that 10 per cent of soldiers, police and prisoners are HIV-positive, and as many as one-third of sex workers. One UN study suggests a million individuals may be infected by 2006. Condom awareness is still very low, and AIDS is still commonly regarded as a 'foreign disease'. The huge number of sex workers - estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 - makes the task of education even harder. UNICEF is funding projects to support the rehabilitation of child prostitutes and street children. Cambodian men, it says, prefer young prostitutes, especially virgins, believing this will increase virility and bring good luck. The spectre of AIDS has only increased the demand. For Sophy at least the immediate problem of debt has been solved. UNICEF, which used her story in its campaign, paid off her debts. But with three children - a third aged seven is at school - and the stigma of a husband who died of AIDS, she has little chance of work. 'I tried once or twice to set up a stall selling vegetables, fruit and some cakes, but no one would buy.' The future is darker still for thousands of other Cambodians who are - whether they know it or not - HIV-positive.