Kem Srei Mao, a 28-year-old widow recently evicted from her home in Tonle Bassac, is one of several people known to be living with HIV/AIDS in the relocation village of Andong in Dangkao district. "I am worried about my three-year-old daughter; she will have great difficulty if I die," Srei Mao said.
Aman living with HIV/AIDS died on June 3 after his house was torn down during Phnom
Penh City's forced eviction of the Sambok Chab squatter community near Tonle Bassac,
also known as Village 14.
The death has highlighted the growing concern of health experts and human rights
NGOs over the brutality of the displacement process on citizens who require medical
services to survive.
Prak Saban, a volunteer team leader of Sambok Chab residents living with HIV/AIDS,
told the Post on August 2 that 35-year-old Nhem Sophal died the day after being turned
away from a health care center near Psar Samaki known locally as Peth AIDS (the AIDS
She said Sophal had been on anti-retroviral (ARV) drug treatment for only a month,
and died because of an adverse reaction to the drugs, poor health care and lack of
Saban said that on June 2 as the Sambok Chab eviction unfolded around him Sophal,
desperately sick, went to Peth AIDS, the Center of Hope AIDS clinic at Sihanouk Hospital.
But a doctor told him that there was no bed available, gave him 20,000 riel and asked
him to come back again on June 4.
The next day at 2pm in Sambok Chab, Sophal, whose home had been destroyed by police,
was found dead in the tent he had taken refuge in.
Saban, who has been infected with HIV since 1996, said she had been trying to organize
a network for poor people living with HIV/AIDS in Sambok Chab to help them access
the health consultants and drugs they need to relieve their symptoms.
"Sophal was living in a tent and the temperature was not good for his health,"
Saban said. "That, combined with a lack of food, made it easy for him to react
badly to the [ARV] drugs."
She said the behavior of the police evicting the villagers had made it difficult
even to remove Sophal's dead body.
Sihanouk Hospital's acting director of the Center of Hope, Dr Cornelia Haener, said
she was unaware of Sophal's case.
"It is very sad to hear such stories," she said. "Our hospital tries
the best we can to alleviate the misery of the poor and needy of Cambodia. Unfortunately,
our resources are limited and we have only a limited number of beds to admit very
sick patients. I know that we had no beds available at the end of last week and had
to refer many patients to other facilities.
"In my experience, we try to prioritize HIV-positive patients as we know that
they have difficulty to access other services."
Sophal's untimely death has spared him the misery of other HIV/AIDS sufferers now
marooned at relocation sites in remote Dangkao, far from medical help, without food
Another victim of the City Hall evictions from the Tonle Bassac area died at his
relocation site. Chan Sam Ol, 57, died in Andong Village, in Koh Rokar commune of
Dangkao district, just weeks after his forced eviction from Ampov (Sugar Cane) Village
near Tonle Bassac.
Sum Aun, a 45-year-old woman who is a neighbor of Sam Ol, said he had been too shy
to accept food from his neighbors and died of starvation. She said Sam Ol's wife
had asked him to stay at the relocation site to get a plot of land promised by the
authorities while she continued to support the family by working as a recycler near
But Som Sophalla, representative of the Dangkao district authorities, denied Sam
Ol starved to death. Sophalla said he visits the relocation site almost every day
to monitor living conditions.
"I came immediately when there was a report about the death of Sam Ol,"
Sophalla said. "His death was caused by old age and sickness and he also drank
alcohol, so he didn't eat food."
Aun, who is living with HIV/AIDS, said she had been on ARV for three months but after
her eviction to Dangkao the doctors reprimanded her because she had been unable to
continue following the strict drug-taking regime they required. So she gave up taking
Saban said that since the forced eviction of villagers from their homes in Tonle
Bassac, concerns had been raised about the health care of the 88 people known to
be living with HIV/AIDS who were supposed to move to the relocation site in Andong
village in Dangkao. But only about 10 of the 88 with their families have moved to
Andong. Many of the rest are continuing to live around the Bassac area.
She said it was not only villagers living with HIV/AIDS who were a matter of concern
at the relocation sites in Dangkao: poor sanitation and poor hygiene at the new sites
and insufficient toilets meant disease could spread rapidly.
The local human rights organization Licadho reported on July 18 that the most common
health problems at the new settlements in Dangkao were respiratory tract infections,
gastro-intestinal illnesses, skin diseases and sickness related to malnutrition and
vitamin deficiency among children.
The report said that there were 1,716 patients registered, of whom 663 were children,
half of them under five years old.
"In Andong, living conditions are particularly preoccupying," Licadho wrote
in its report. "Medical reports indicate that living conditions heavily affect
the health of the residents, with a particularly high impact on children. In view
of this humanitarian emergency situation, we call upon the international community
and the relief agencies to provide, as soon as possible, any help they can to the
people living in the resettlement areas as well as those still in the Bassac settlement."
The report said there were 62 pregnant women in the new Andong village.
"The doctors are particularly concerned about the situation," the report
says. "Especially during nighttime, when there is neither a doctor nor a midwife
on stand-by to respond quickly to emergencies and no ambulance to organize the transport
of women to the next health facility.".
Chuop Phalla, a 27-year-old living with HIV/AIDS, tearfully told the Post that she
is six months pregnant, facing starvation, and her husband beats her.
"I am beaten by my husband because we have nothing to eat," Phalla said.
"We earn nothing here and violence is always happening because we are starving."
Phalla is taking anti-retroviral drugs provided by Sihanouk Hospital's Center of
Hope. But now that the City has evicted her from the Bassac to Dangkao she has to
spend 10,000 riel each month for a motodup to take her to get the medicine. Sometimes
she has to walk there and back - a total of 40 kilometers.
Kem Srei Mao, a 28-year-old widow also living with HIV/AIDS, said she had similar
problems to Phalla's.
"I am worried about my three-year-old daughter; she will have great difficulty
if I die," she said.
Srei Mao said patients on anti-retroviral treatment must adhere strictly to a regime:
they need to take their medicines at the exact times the doctor prescribes. And the
drugs could cause hepatitis and other liver problems.
Heng Bun Hak, Program Manager of Cambodia Human Rights and HIV/AIDS Network (CHRHAN)
told the Post on August 3 that the forced eviction of people from the communities
in Tonle Bassac was seriously affecting the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.
"I think the forced evictions by the government are an abuse of the special
rights of people living with HIV/AIDS," Bun Hak said. "The current relocation
sites will bring more difficulties to the villagers.
"I appeal to the government and local authorities to give priority to the rights
of people living with HIV/AIDS in future evictions," Bun Hak said. "People
living with HIV/AIDS are vulnerable from other diseases, especially pregnant women."