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
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.
Seventy-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
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.