Health authorities in Cambodia were alarmed when a cluster of villagers living near Battambang, tested positive for HIV in December. More than 200 people there are now known to have contracted the virus.
The government blames an unlicensed medico who was allegedly reusing needles, and has pledged a countrywide crackdown against quacks.
Experts say Roka village is the worst hit village in the outbreak where 12 percent of villagers tested so far have proven positive - 20 times the national rate.
Cambodians are usually treated with intravenous drips or injections for ailments. The government officials attribute the spike in HIV infections here to an unlicensed medico reusing needles. The medico, who practiced here for two decades, is awaiting trial.
AdvertisementSeventy-two-year-old rice farmer and commune councilor Serm Chom tested positive last month, as have at least a dozen family members, from infants to the elderly.
Chom states that, "We have lost our children to this. We don't have energy to earn a living and feed our families. I want to know the real reasons behind this and also want to see that doctor jailed."
The outbreak is a serious blow to HIV prevention efforts in the country. Cambodia's fight against HIV is run from The National Centre for HIV/AIDS Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS) office in Phnom Penh.
"We are trying to determine if what happened in Roka Commune is an isolated incident," says the man at the helm, Dr. Mean Chhivun.
UNAIDS is an important partner in the effort to combat HIV. The link to needles and unlicensed medicos has proven a wake-up call for health experts and the government, says country coordinator Marie-Odile Emond. She also says the outbreak in the village will not undermine the focus on working with high-risk groups such as sex workers.