PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodian prosecutor charged an unlicensed medical practitioner with murder on Monday, alleging he spread HIV among at least 106 villagers in Roka, a village near Battambang.
“We charged him with spreading the HIV virus to others, brutal murder and operating a medical service without a license,” Nuon San, the provincial court’s chief prosecutor, told Reuters.
The ‘private doctor,’ Yem Chrin, administered hundreds of injections to villagers. In rural Cambodia, many people believe that injections provide more powerful medicine than tablets. As he went from household to household in the farming village, Mr. Chrin reportedly also was treating about 20 HIV positive patients.
Yem Chrin admitted to routinely re-using syringes, provincial deputy police chief Chet Vanny told Reuters,saying: “He used the same syringes again and again.”
Last week, when the news from Roka commune, about 300 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, became an international scandal, Mr. Chrin ordered his children to burn a mix of medical waste in his backyard. Investigators are now studying this waste and medical supplies found in his house.
So far, about 10 percent of the 1,500 villagers tested in Roka have been found to carry the AIDS-causing virus. Officially, the number is 106. But opposition legislator, Ke Sonvranth, who visited the village Saturday, says the real number is 140. A doctor at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, Didier Fontenille, has been quoted saying the number of positive cases is over 140.
Beng Sor, chief of the Roka Commune Health center, declined in a telephone interview to give the exact number of villagers who tested positive for HIV. He said: “Now we are investigating this issue.”
Victims range from a 2-month-old baby to a 78-year-old grandmother to Roka’s head Buddhist monk.
On Monday, the Provincial Court in Battambang, eight kilometers east of Roka, responded to the growing international outcry by detaining Mr. Chrin. Prosecutors plan to continue questioning him on Tuesday.
“We are now questioning him,” said provincial court prosecutor, Noun San.
Soeun Chhorn, deputy chief of Roka, said that most of the village population has gone to the Roka Health Center for blood testing. He applauded the jailing of the village’s unlicensed ‘doctor,’ Mr. Chrin.
“If the transmission were only to a few people, I would not be angry,” he said in a telephone interview. “But the virus was transmitted to a lot of people.”
Cambodia’s Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng made a lightning trip to Roka last Thursday and was filmed distributing health packets to villagers.
AIDS professionals say the villagers now need from the Ministry a guaranteed lifetime supply of antiretroviral drugs. These drugs ward off the onset of AIDS and allow HIV positive people to live normal lives.
People in Roka commune face real doctors in Roka Health Center. (Photo: Chea Chiv/ Facebook)