Lawmaker Requests Funds to Help Pay HIV Villagers’ Debt

The head of the National Assembly’s commission on public health submitted a letter to the Assembly’s president on Thursday requesting that the government find funds to help HIV-positive villagers in Battambang province’s Roka commune pay back the debts they have incurred due to the virus.

Ke Sovannaroth, an opposition CNRP lawmaker who heads the commission, said on Sunday that she received a letter on February 22 from a group of villagers who are among more than 240 that have tested positive for HIV since an outbreak was detected late last year.

“There are 66 families out of the more than 200 who have HIV that are in debt, some from $500 to $3,000,” Ms. Sovannaroth said. “They are very concerned that the microfinance institution [that they borrowed from] may confiscate farmland.”

Ms. Sovannaroth said she wrote to the Health Ministry to request the necessary funds, but that the request was denied on March 5.

“After I got a response from the Ministry of Health saying that paying off the villagers’ microfinance debt was beyond its capacity, I decided to write another letter to the head of the National Assembly to then pass on to the prime minister,” she said.

“The government is responsible for this HIV outbreak since it is its carelessness in the control of the health sector [that caused it],” she said.

After questioning Health Minister Mam Bunheng over the outbreak on January 27, Ms. Sovannaroth requested that his ministry create a special budget package to deal with it. Ms. Sovannaroth said that the money allocated in the package would be used to help relieve villagers’ debt, along with caring for the infected.

Though the Health Ministry decided against the budget package, the March 4 letter from Mr. Bunheng to Ms. Sovannaroth instructs a number of ministries, along with the Council of Ministers and the National Aids Authority, to create a “working group” to create a long-term plan to treat those infected with HIV in Roka commune.

Mr. Bunheng could not be reached on Sunday.

Of the more than 240 villagers who have tested positive for HIV in the commune, six have died since the outbreak was detected, including an infant.

Officials have pinned the blame solely on Yem Chrin, an unlicensed doctor who regularly treated villagers using injections and remains in jail on murder charges.

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