Minister Dismisses Lawmaker’s HIV Concerns

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said Wednesday that he was unconcerned by a letter sent to him by the head of the National Assembly’s health commission last month concerning a spate of recently discovered HIV cases in Kandal province.

“These are normal infections,” Mr. Bunheng told reporters during the Health Ministry’s annual meeting in Phnom Penh, going on to dismiss the letter from opposition lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth.

“Regarding this problem, I am acting according to my role as a member of the government, not according to her order,” he said.

In the letter to Mr. Bunheng—dated February 25 and endorsed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin—Ms. Sovannaroth said her commission had received information about “the spreading of HIV/AIDS infections to villagers in Peam village, Sambuor Meas commune.”

She asked Mr. Bunheng to “take urgent action” regarding the situation in Peam, where 10 previously unknown cases of HIV were discovered through testing conducted by the NGO Khemara.

While the Health Ministry initially dispatched officials to carry out follow-up testing, the examinations were called off after just four of 279 residents of the village—home to about 1,000—tested positive for the virus over the course of a day.

Ms. Sovannaroth said Wednesday that Mr. Bunheng should respect her position as an elected legislator, while also being mindful of his responsibilities as the country’s top health official.

“He has the right to speak like this, but he also has a role to play in this case,” she said. “He should be acting according to his duty.”

“I am a representative of the people who voted for me, so I have the right to monitor and push him to act on this problem,” she added.

Ms. Sovannaroth said she and the minister still planned to meet to discuss the Peam case, but that scheduling conflicts had so far prevented them.

“I think that when we meet to discuss this with each other, we will find a new strategy to solve the problem,” she said.

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