There are now more than 110 people in a single Cambodian village who have tested positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The cause of the village’s large number of infections and the source of transmission has not been determined.
Health authorities say tests administered in the past 11 days on hundreds of worried villagers have found a surprisingly high percentage of them to be carrying HIV.
The Cambodia country director for UNAIDS (the lead United Nations organization combating AIDS), Marie-Odile Edmond, said those residing in Roka commune in Battambang province are not in a high-risk category.
“Among a general population, as we call it, no, there wouldn’t be so many cases suddenly detected. So it’s an unusual situation,” said Edmond.
The Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh confirmed to VOA News that those in the village had tested positive for HIV-1, the most common and pathogenic strain of the deadly virus.
The tests were administered as police began questioning an apparently unlicensed doctor.
Many of those residing in the village, which has a population of 8,900 people, are blaming the man they thought was a trusted physician with spreading the virus through recycled needles.
Edmond, the UNAIDS country director, said it is premature to draw any conclusions as to how the virus spread.
“I’m not really able to comment on that because I think we really have to wait for the findings of the investigation, interviewing both that person and also the people from the clinic who have come for testing, the practice at that facility, but also the behavior,” said Edmond.
Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, during remarks at a graduation ceremony in the capital Thursday questioned the test results. He said the infected villagers “might have a virus, but it’s not AIDS.”
He also questioned, in defiance of accepted medical knowledge, how the young or elderly could have the disease, which can be spread through blood transfusions, injections with previously used needles, or the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual contact.
A deputy provincial police chief is quoted by domestic media saying that new and used needles were found together during a search of the house of a medical practitioner identified as Yem Chroeum.
The man, who is in his 50s, has been detained by police, but has not been charged with any crime.
Dr. Mean Chhi Vun, director of Cambodia’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS), speaking briefly to VOA News said, “the investigation is ongoing” but that he was “too busy” to provide any details.
Cambodia’s government has previously announced a goal of no new HIV infections by 2020.