Residents of HIV-Hit Commune Offended by Donation of Coffins

HIV-infected residents of Bat­tam­­bang province’s Roka commune—where more than 270 peo­ple have tested positive for the virus since late 2014—were left feeling angry and offended after 15 cof­fins were donated to a local pagoda in a misguided gesture of good­will, a health official said on Tuesday.

Chief of the commune health center, By Beng Sor, said the wooden coffins were donated by villagers in the area and delivered to the Roka pagoda. He said the coffins were coincidentally dropped off just hours before a man infected with HIV died at his home—becoming the 13th resident to pass away after contracting the virus.

“I heard from patients that many coffins had been provided by the local people for people who are infected with HIV. The donors made a mistake…. If they wanted to help, they should have waited to see whether a family has no money to buy a coffin,” Mr. Beng Sor said, adding that the donation had upset those battling the virus.

“They are feeling very sad because it is like they are just waiting to get in the coffin to die,” he said.

Last month, Yem Chrin, a 56-year-old medic who treated doz­ens of Roka residents, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for causing the outbreak that was detected in December 2014. He was convicted of operating without a medical license, intentionally spreading HIV, and aggravated torture and cruelty resulting in death.

At about 3 a.m. on Tuesday morn­­ing, Srey Vet, 29, became the latest of Mr. Chrin’s patients to die after largely failing to take his prescribed anti-retrovirals for two months, having stopped when he and his wife separated, according to Mr. Beng Sor.

“I think he was too sad in his life, and his wife went away, so he didn’t really care to take his medicine as regularly,” Mr. Beng Sor said.

Commune chief Sim Pov confirmed the latest death but said he knew nothing about the coffins.

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