Government Begins HIV Testing in Kandal After Apparent Outbreak

The government began testing vil­lagers in Kandal province’s Sam­buor Meas commune for HIV on Monday after a public health NGO discovered an apparent outbreak of the virus, confirming 14 new cases in three villages dur­ing testing earlier this month.

During the first day of testing in Peam village, where 10 of the cases were discovered by the NGO, Khemara, four more people tested positive for the virus, ac­cording to provincial health de­partment director Kouy Bun­thoeun, who criticized the organization for its un­sanctioned testing.

“Our health officials went to the vil­lage today, and we gave blood tests to 241 people, but we found on­ly four people who were HIV pos­itive,” Dr. Bunthoeun said.

“The result is a small number—not like the figure given by one or­gan­ization,” he added.

“The organization named Khe­ma­ra did not cooperate with our pro­vincial health department, and they snuck in to do the tests with­out having permission from lo­cal au­thorities,” he said, adding that an ad­ditional 750 villagers would be tested this week.

Chhun Roeurn, executive director of Save Incapacity Teenagers, an HIV support and prevention NGO that helped administer Monday’s government-sanctioned finger-prick tests, confirmed that there were four positive results among 279 tests that were carried out by the end of the day.

Representatives from Khemara, an NGO that includes HIV and AIDS prevention in its programs to sup­port women and children, could not be reached.

However, Choub Sok Cham­reun, the executive director of Kha­na, an NGO that works exclusively on HIV prevention and care, said the apparent outbreak came to light after Khemara staff carried out tests in the village for International Con­dom Day on February 13.

“Ninety-eight community members participated and accepted the testing. Five out of the 98 were tested reactive and then referred by Khema­ra staff and peers to get confirmatory tests at Samdech Euv referral hospital and were all confirmed positive,” he said.

“Later on, the other community mem­bers sought for testing by them­selves at the referral hospital and [were] found positive,” he said, add­ing that 12 cases were confirmed on Friday, and another two over the weekend.

Dr. Bunthoeun, the provincial health chief, said Monday that 32 residents of Peam village were pre­viously known to be infected with HIV, placing the rate of infection in the village of about 1,000 peo­ple well above the national average of 0.6 percent.

While the source of the virus re­mains unclear, five infected villag­ers interviewed on Sunday said they suspect that they contracted HIV while being treated by Dr. Sok Thornn, director of the Ponhea Leu district referral hospital, at his private practice in neighboring Mok Kam­poul district.

Dr. Thornn vigorously denied the claims and threatened to take le­gal action against villagers who blamed him for spreading the virus.

The apparent outbreak comes after more than 270 villagers in Battam­bang province’s Roka commune test­ed positive for the virus in De­cem­ber 2014.

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