Woman, Baby From HIV-Hit Commune Die

A 73-year-old woman and a 7-month-old girl—both of whom were among the more than 230 people in Battambang province’s Roka commune who tested positive for HIV—have died in the past week and a half, officials and an NGO worker said Thursday.

The cause of the HIV outbreak remains unknown, but officials have blamed Yem Chrin, an unlicensed doctor who regularly treated villagers using injections and admitted to reusing syringes on multiple occasions.

The provincial court jailed Mr. Chrin on murder charges on December 22.

Mean Chhi Vun, director of the Health Ministry’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD, said Thursday that the elderly woman had started taking drugs to treat her tuberculosis (TB) shortly before she died on January 22.

She had not yet begun taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV, he added.

“I just know that she died, but she did not die because she used anti-HIV medicine,” Mr. Chhi Vun said.

He said the 7-month-old girl died of chronic bronchitis at the Jayavarman VII children’s hospital in Siem Reap City on Tuesday, but declined to comment further.

Soeum Chhom, the deputy chief of Roka commune, identified the woman who died as Chim Phoeuk and said he did not know the name of the baby.

Heng Monychenda, the director of Buddhism for Development, a local NGO that has been providing assistance to HIV-infected Roka commune residents, said it was not clear what killed Chim Phoeuk.

“We haven’t checked if she died because of TB drugs or because of bad health,” he said. “All we know is she had TB and HIV. Then she said, ‘I am tired,’ and she passed away.”

At a roundtable discussion in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr. Monychenda said a total of 234 villagers in Roka commune have now tested positive for HIV since the virus was first detected in late November.

Masami Fujita, the World Health Organization’s HIV team leader in Cambodia, said TB was a serious concern for HIV-positive individuals.

“TB is normally the leading cause of death,” he said. “TB needs to be prevented and treated if they have it—that is very important.”

Dr. Fujita said that if a person is already taking anti-retroviral drugs for HIV, it is safe for them to also take drugs for TB.

He added, however, that in cases where neither drug is being taken, TB drugs should be administered two weeks before antiretroviral drugs are begun.

“Normally with HIV cases, TB treatment is started first, then HIV treatment is started,” he said.

If the TB drugs are taken after the HIV drugs, the TB infection could worsen, he said.

Mr. Fujita said it was also common for lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, to be fatal for those with HIV.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Heng Monychenda’s comments about Chim Phoeuk’s death were made at a roundtable discussion in Phnom Penh. He was speaking by telephone. 

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