Prime Minister Hun Sen admitted Tuesday that he made an error in judgment when he doubted the veracity of a growing HIV outbreak in Battambang province’s Roka commune in December.
Speaking at the closure of the Ministry of Health’s annual meeting at the Sofitel Hotel in Phnom Penh, Mr. Hun Sen said he had been wrong to claim that the outbreak was likely due to faulty testing equipment.
“I 99 percent do not believe that it’s AIDS,” he said in a speech in mid-December, adding, “Probably, if we were tested using those machines, half of us would be infected by AIDS. I still don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”
At the time of Mr. Hun Sen’s initial doubts in mid-December, more than 100 villagers had already tested positive for HIV, a number that has since grown to 241.
On Tuesday, he acknowledged that he was wrong and that the epidemic was real.
“In the beginning, I could not believe it,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“I said that I could not believe that AIDS had spread to hundreds of the people in the village, but when [we] did more and more [tests], I realized that this is a big case that requires us to work diligently.”
Officials have blamed the HIV outbreak on Yem Chrin, an unlicensed doctor who admitted to regularly reusing syringes, and who has been jailed by the provincial court over charges including murder.
Mr. Hun Sen said Tuesday that villagers in Roka commune chose to use Mr. Chrin for their medical needs because they were determined to receive injections, even when this was not warranted by their diagnosis.
“When our doctors would not inject them, they went to secretly see their [unlicensed doctor], where they went to have injections,” he said. “So we must control such cases strictly. Some people are not doctors, but they trained to inject people.”