Alarm over surge in HIV cases in Cambodia

Police questioning unlicensed doctor after more than 100 cases of HIV reported in Battambang community in one week.

    The virus was allegedly spread by a doctor who treated patients using the same needle [EPA]
    The virus was allegedly spread by a doctor who treated patients using the same needle [EPA]

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Panic has struck a small community in Cambodia’s northwestern province of Battambang after more than 100 villagers, including 19 children, tested positive for HIV in the past week, officials said.

    Teng Kunthy, secretary-general of the National AIDS Authority, said that as of Wednesday, 106 villagers in Roka Commune had been diagnosed with HIV since December 8.

    "Until now, we are still updating the number," he told Al Jazeera.

    After news of the outbreak spread, health clinics in the area have received a steady flow of villagers wanting to be tested for the disease, according to Roka Commune Chief Sim Pov.

    "The situation is that people are sad. They don’t know how to deal with it," he said, adding that more than 800 people have been tested in the past week.

    "Between 10 and 20 people have come in this morning, but I can’t be sure of the exact number," Sim Pov said.

    Accusations fly

    Police are questioning an unlicensed doctor who has been accused by many in the community of about 9,000 people of spreading the disease by allegedly providing medical treatment to patients using the same needle.

    If the other villagers and I see [the doctor behind these infections], then we will kill him.

    Seoum Chhorm, deputy chief of Roka Commune

    Seng Luch, provincial police chief said that Yem Chrin, the unlicensed doctor, appeared for questioning at the provincial police headquarters late Wednesday.

    "He was detained and kept at the provincial police head quarter for questioning," Seng Luch told Al Jazeera.

    "Nineteen of the new HIV cases involve children under 15 years old [as of Wednesday]," he added.

    Local media reported that many villagers were angry and had threatened violence against Yem Chrin.

    "If the other villagers and I see [Chroeum], then we will kill him," Seoum Chhorm, deputy chief of Roka Commune, told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper.

    Playing down the reports from the National AIDS Authority, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Thursday in Phnom Penh that he had doubts that all 106 people had HIV.

    "It is not that we do not believe in our doctors and our equipment, but it is hard to believe," he said. "I do not believe it."

    Hun also called for calm in Roka Commune, saying that he also does not believe that Yem Chrin could have caused an outbreak of HIV.

    Cambodia has been praised in recent years for its success in battling HIV/AIDS since emerging from the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime.

    Hun recently committed to stopping all new HIV infections by the year 2020.

    According to UNAIDS, an estimated 75,000 people in Cambodia were living with HIV in 2013, including more than 5,000 children under 15.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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