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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - HIV-man's wedding highlights lack of law

HIV-man's wedding highlights lack of law

A 19-year-old HIV-positive man successfully bedded "a dozen" women and then

wedded a young girl in Phnom Penh mid-last month without telling any of them

about his disease.

His case highlights Cambodia's lack of a law

prohibiting the willful spread of HIV.

The man had spent weeks of misery

after he was diagnosed positive for the Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV),

believed to cause Aids. But after spending $1,500 on a local "cure", he slept

with "a dozen" girls before getting engaged, according to a close

friend.

The Post published an article about the man in May last year. He

had told one of his friends: "There is no such disease as Aids, it's just the

worst state of syphilis."

The same friend who had talked to the Post in

May, said the man began the search for a "new love life" after having been told

by a local doctor that he had been cured.

Richard Renas, the World Health

Organization's technical officer for the Global Program on Aids denied that the

man would have been cured by a local doctor.

"The man's $1,500

expenditure was wasted, he was not cured by the treatment."

The man,

convinced he was cured of HIV, slept with "a dozen girls" before asking an

18-year-old girl living in Siem Reap to marry him. The girl accepted without the

knowledge of her parents in Battambang.

Born of a rich family, the man

invited hundreds of friends and relatives to his wedding but only two of the

bride's friends attended. The man's father refused his invitation because he was

unhappy with his son for being disobedient and extravagant with the family's

money, said the friend.

The man had told his family about his infection

and they spoiled him with money. Friends allege he spent - or possibly stole

- $3,000 of the family's money.

"I think one day when the symptoms of

Aids appear, he will realize that he was wrong," the friend said. "But it will

be too late."

The friend said immediately after the man was told of the

disease he "was trapped in extreme misery and sometimes even wanted to commit

suicide."

"During the first month, he was very sad and cried every

night," said his close friend, who shared a bedroom in the man's

house.

Before his diagnosis, the young man had fallen in love with one of

his cousins and planned to marry her, with the support of both the girl's and

his own parents.

However the man - fearing evil luck would be inflicted

on his fiancé - disrupted his engagement by provoking numerous arguments and

conflicts with her and her family.

In despair, he broke off the

engagement and gave $1,500 to a local doctor who eventually declared him

cured.

The man persuaded his girlfriend, who lived with her aunt and

uncle in Siem Reap, to be married in Phnom Penh.

Dr. Tea Phala, National

Program Manager of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Aids and STD Prevention

and Control [formerly the National Aids Committee], said he believed there were

many other similar cases which have yet to be uncovered.

In Cambodia,

however, he said there were no laws to punish people spreading the disease

"because it is impossible to identify all the people who are HIV-positive and

nobody could follow them all the time."

According to Renas, some

countries have laws prohibiting the spreading of infectious diseases such as

typhoid.

"Laws concerning HIV transmission are based on laws like that,"

Renas said.

In New Zealand, for example, an African-born musician who was

HIV-positive was arrested and jailed for sleeping with many women. He did not

tell his partners he was infected. It is yet unknown whether any of his partners

had become infected.

Renas said in the United States some states have

laws requiring couples to get counseling about sexually transmitted diseases

[STDs] and Aids before they get married.

According to a senior staff

member of the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, there are some "advanced" Khmers

who had blood tests before getting married. But, only about five such people

appeared on her monthly registration.

Phala said there are some

approaches to help bring down the risk of infected people passing HIV to others.

One of the most important was pre-test and post-test

counseling.

According to international law, he said, blood tests could

not be conducted unless the person gives written informed consent, but this was

not applied in Cambodia.

"We just ask them if they are happy with the

test; if they are, we will do it and if not it is up to them," he

said.

Pre-test counseling explains what Aids is; how it is and is not

passed on; safe sex, and the advantages and disadvantages of the test, while

post-test counseling clarifies what HIV-negative and HIV-positive

means.

"Some people think that they will die tomorrow if they are

HIV-positive," he said. "Others confuse the infected period [which can be brief

or last up to ten years] with the full-blown Aids."

The latest report by

the National Aids Program shows that 1,000 people in Cambodia have been reported

as having HIV antibodies. Phala estimated the real number of HIV-positive cases

is about 7,000.

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