After overseeing almost two decades of remarkable progress in the country’s donor-funded fight against HIV/AIDS, the director of the National Center Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (NCHADS) is retiring amid an unprecedented outbreak of the virus in Battambang province, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said Thursday.
However, Mr. Bunheng insisted that the retirement of Mean Chhi Vun, who has headed NCHADS since 1998, was due to his age and not related to the recent outbreak, in which 230 residents of rural Roka commune have tested positive for HIV since late November.
“When he is old, he has to retire,” Mr. Bunheng said.
Dr. Chhi Vun said he stepped down 10 days ago due to his age, which he declined to give to a reporter.
“My retirement is not involved with [the HIV outbreak]. Sixty is the retirement age,” he said. “Why do you need to ask my age? It is my issue.”
Dr. Chhi Vun will be replaced by his deputy, Ly Penh Sun, who said the former director would continue on in an advisory role.
“Mr. Chhi Vun retired but he remains an adviser to the Ministry of Health,” Dr. Penh Sun said. “He is still involved in the investigation with the ministry of the case in Roka commune.”
Since the outbreak came to light in December, Dr. Chhi Vun has headed the government’s response efforts, including a survey completed last month that found the virus was most likely transmitted via injections or intravenous drips.
In the years since Dr. Chhi Vun has headed NCHADS, the rate of HIV infections has dropped steadily, from epidemic levels in the late 1990s, when HIV and AIDS infected 1.7 percent of Cambodians between the ages of 15 and 49, to less than 0.7 percent today.
However, after two decades of relying almost entirely on international support, the country is facing funding cuts from some of it largest donors—including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has given $252 million to fight HIV/AIDS in Cambodia since 2003.