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Minister of Health Mam Bunheng
Minister of Health Mam Bunheng (centre) answers questions at the National Assembly yesterday afternoon about the HIV outbreak in Battambang’s Roka commune. Pha Lina

Promises made to HIV village

Health Minister Mam Bunheng announced yesterday he has proposed that a reserve budget be used to help victims of the mass HIV outbreak in Battambang province’s Roka village, as he vowed to strengthen health services across the country.

Speaking at a press conference following questioning by the National Assembly commission responsible for health, Bunheng explained how the “special package budget”, which was devised by commission chairwoman Ke Sovannaroth, would be spent.

According to Bunheng, the money will be used to expand health facilities in Roka commune, with plans for additional doctors, an ambulance, and antiretroviral drugs.

Bunheng said that contaminated injections and serum were the primary source of the transmissions, which, by January 22, reached a total of 226 HIV-positive patients.

Sovannaroth, a Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker, said the proposed budget would not be used only for health services “but also to help them with their living [costs] and loans with the bank”.

“I have conducted a survey and found that the lowest amount they owed the bank is $500 and the highest is $2,500. I believe that our government would be able to pay this off for them,” she said.

Yem Chroeum, the unlicensed doctor allegedly at the centre of the outbreak, was charged in December with murder, intentionally transmitting HIV and running a clinic without permission from the Health Ministry.
If found guilty, he faces life imprisonment.

When asked yesterday if there was anyone else implicated in the outbreak, Bunheng responded cryptically: “I do not want to say the name.… I will keep it for the police and court to work on that.”

With the outbreak bringing the issue of unlicensed doctors to the fore in Cambodia, Bunheng said yesterday that the ministry is in the process of re-examining the quality of medical services across the Kingdom.

Sovannaroth stressed the importance of reform.

Health services “should be re-organised and strengthened in hospitals and health centres in rural areas, [with focus on] the quality of the treatment”.

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