An official said Wednesday that more than 160 villagers have now tested positive for HIV in Battambang province’s Roka commune in an outbreak that has baffled health officials and international experts, who are now conducting a survey to determine how the virus was spread.
Soeum Chhom, deputy chief of Roka commune in Sangke district, said three villages in the commune have been affected by the outbreak, which officials have blamed on Yem Chrin, an unlicensed doctor who offered cut-rate medical services to villagers in the area.
“In Roka village, 141 tested positive for HIV and in Ambeng Thnge village, more than 20 people tested positive,” Mr. Chhom said. “In Tahen Muoy village, two children aged 6 and 7 tested positive.”
Mr. Chhom, who has been collecting signatures and thumbprints from those who test positive as part of his official duties, said that all of the roughly 160 villagers that he has recorded as being infected with the virus underwent tests at both the commune health center and provincial referral hospital.
“I think that the HIV virus was spread because of Yem Chrin’s treatment since almost all of the victims had been treated by him,” he said.
On Monday, the Battambang Provincial Court charged Mr. Chrin with murder punishable by life in prison and placed him in provisional detention.
Contacted Wednesday, provincial court prosecutor Nuon San said the case against Mr. Chrin is still being investigated.
“We charged him because we have some evidence,” he said, declining to elaborate.
A survey of villagers, led by the Health Ministry’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD is currently underway in Roka commune to determine how the virus spread.
More than 1,500 villagers have had their blood tested at the Roka commune health center since preliminary testing began on December 8, according to the center’s director, By Beng Sor.
On Tuesday, the National Aids Authority issued a directive instructing media outlets to refrain from publishing the names of infected villagers or face fines or even prison time.
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