Health officials in Kandal province have set up a blood-testing campaign in Mok Kampoul district, after 14 villagers there were reportedly found HIV positive.
The discovery raises the specter of a mass HIV outbreak similar to one in Battambang province, far to the north, in 2014. Health officials say for now they are skeptical of reports and are testing for more data.
Ouk Sitha, director of the program to combat HIV and STDs in Kandal, said more testing was needed before the results could be confirmed. A working group is setting up blood tests and will seek to learn the infection history of people who test positive, he said.
The Battambang outbreak, in Rorka village, Sangker district, was traced back to an unlicensed clinic whose doctor was reusing intravenous needles to treat patients. More than 280 people were found HIV positive in a small cluster of villagers in that outbreak.
Ouk Sitha said in Kandal province’s Sambuor Meas commune, 279 people were tested Tuesday and four were found HIV positive, adding to 10 already reported positive. “I don’t think it’s like the case in Rorka village,” he said.
Among those who tested positive for HIV was Bou Ket, 67, a widow from Peam village. “We feel ashamed,” she said. “We don’t deserve to have this kind of disease at this old age.”
Nem Yang, Sambuor Meas commune chief, said she was shocked to have 14 people test positive for the virus. It remains unclear how they contracted it, she said.
Villager Thoeun Chandara told VOA Khmer he had taken a blood test after learning the number of people already found positive. All villagers should do the same and seek treatment if they are found positive, he said. “It’s better to know whether we have the disease or not, in order to prepare for treatment,” he said.
The prospect of another outbreak is a setback to Cambodia’s efforts to combat HIV and AIDS, which had progressed well in recent years, coming down from prevalence rate of 2.6 percent in 2002 to 1.8 percent in 2015.