The cluster of 14 HIV cases in the Muk Kampoul district’s Peam village marks the largest reported HIV infection in Cambodia since hundreds of people in Battambang’s Roka commune were infected by an unlicensed doctor using unsterilized equipment.
While government health officials told RFA’s Khmer Service that they had yet to isolate the cause, villagers say they believe they were infected by a local doctor.
One of the villagers told RFA that he and his wife had their blood tested in 2012 with negative results. When he was tested this February, however, he was HIV positive. The villager, who asked not to be named, said he didn’t cheat on his wife or engage in other risky activity where he may have contracted the disease.
“I cried, and I asked myself: How could I get infected? Through what?” the villager said. “When I asked the doctor if I was infected through blood contamination, he said: 'Yes.'”
Ly Penh Sun, director of the National Center for HIV, AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, told RFA they had yet to make a determination on what caused the infection.
“We don’t know the root cause of it, but maybe he knew his result beforehand,” he said. “Health officials were testing the entire village, Ly Penh Sun told AFP. "More than 140 people have come for testing, and the results so far show around 50 people are HIV-negative," he said.
Local doctor blamed
At least 4 of the infected villagers told RFA they were treated by Sok Thornn at the Ponhea Leu district referral hospital or at his private practice in neighboring Mok Kampoul district.
Sok Thorn rejected the allegation that the hospital or his private practice had anything to do with the infections, saying his employees are trained to follow proper protocols.
Kouy Bunthoeun, director of the provincial health department, told the Cambodia Daily that Sok Thornn is director of the Ponhea Leu district health referral hospital and he is responsible for training with the HIV/AIDS program. “I have trained my employees,” Sok Thorn told RFA. “I am always organized both inside my house and at work. I put things in an organized manner, so the spread of such a disease could not take place.”
News of the infections comes just months after a Cambodian court sentenced an unlicensed doctor to a 25-year prison term after finding him responsible for causing a mass of HIV infections in a village in Battambang province.
In December the Battambang Provincial Court found Yem Chhrem, 56, guilty of cruel behavior causing death, intentionally spreading HIV, and practicing medicine without a license while treating patients in Sangke district’s Roka commune between 1996 and 2014.
More than 270 villagers in Roka ranging in age from 3 to 82 have tested positive for HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—since late November 2014, and at least 11 Roka villagers are now believed to have died from the disease. In one extended family of 50 people, 16 were infected.
Yem Chhrem and his family have maintained his innocence, saying the infections were not intentional and that he routinely sterilized syringes while treating patients.
Serong Kea, a doctor and national program officer for HIV/AIDs with the World Health Organization, on Saturday told Xinhua the agency had been consulting with health authorities about Peam village since the first cases emerged in January.
“We are still investigating, it is not yet sure, maybe they are old cases, people who came to do HIV tests, but NCHADS will take the next step – this is not yet like Roka,” Kea said.
Reported by Chanthey Roeun of RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.