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.