Four Charged Over Unlicensed Medical Clinics in Battambang

Three Chinese men and a Cambodian were charged Friday by the Battambang Provincial Court for operating unlicensed medical facilities and supplying spoiled or fake drugs, a court official said.

The four were arrested on Wednesday, some five months after the first signs of a HIV outbreak in Sangke district’s Roka commune that has seen more than 250 people test positive for for the virus. 

The spread of HIV in the commune has been blamed on Yem Chrin, an unlicensed practitioner who offered cheap medical services in the area and has been jailed on murder charges after confessing to reusing syringes.

Following the outbreak, the ministries of health and interior pledged to shut down unlicensed clinics and doctors, which are commonly seen across the country.

“The court has charged them with running a clinic without permission from the ministry and using fake or expired medicines,” deputy prosecutor Heng Luy said of the four men charged Friday.

Chey Vanny, chief of the provincial penal police, said that the men were spared provisional detention and were expected to return to court on June 4, the date set for their trial.

Contacted Friday, Voeung Bun­reth, director of the provincial health department, said that the three shuttered clinics had been slow to heed warnings to legitimize their operations through the Health Ministry.

“We had asked them to get permission from the ministry but…they still did not get permission so we had to take action,” he said, adding that the three shuttered clinics were the only unlicensed ones operating in Battambang.

One of the charged men, Cambodian Vann Siengheng, 32, who also holds a Chinese passport, confessed Friday to both charges leveled against him but laid part of the blame on provincial officials, who he said had been slow to register his practice.

Mr. Siengheng said that he stocked traditional Chinese medicines, which the ministry does not recognize, and a small amount of expired medicine, while also claiming that he had made every effort to have his practice legitimized.

“We have asked the provincial health department three times to get permission but it still has not done it for us,” he said.

Keo Sovannaroth, a CNRP lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s commission on health, said Friday that the ministries of health and interior needed to properly follow through on their pledge to shut down illegitimate clinics.

She requested that a survey be conducted country-wide to assess the number of fake doctors handing out dangerous treatments.

“For me, I think there are not hundreds but thousands of private clinics in Cambodia without permission,” Ms. Sovannaroth said.

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