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National Assembly to summon health minister

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng
Health Minister Mam Bunheng, addresses people from Sangke district earlier this month in Battambang after a large number of people from the community were found to be HIV-positive. Heng Chivoan

National Assembly to summon health minister

The National Assembly commission responsible for health will summon Health Minister Mam Bunheng for questioning over the HIV outbreak in Battambang’s Sangke district, the commission’s head, Ke Sovannaroth, said yesterday.

“Because it is such a serious issue – three to four members of the small families are testing positive – the National Assembly must invite the minister to speak about the investigation and how we can solve this problem,” said Sovannaroth, an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker.

Sovannaroth added that the number of recorded cases of HIV in the district had exceeded 190 – but a health official said that not all of these relate to the outbreak in Roka commune’s Roka village.

Battambang Provincial Health Department Director Reung Bunreth said that more than 1,500 fresh tests have been done since an elderly man tested positive for HIV in late November.

“The number of new infections is not as much as that [190] – both new and old cases total 197. The Health Ministry is providing medicine to the others as usual,” he said, referring to those already living with HIV.

Mean Chhivun, director of the National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control, said yesterday that a team of investigators led by the Ministry of Health was hoping to finalise its analysis “soon”.

“We’re waiting for results. Then we can tell you an exact number.… We’re working every day on this,” he said.

Chhivun said he was not aware of any deaths in the village as a result of the infections.

Even so, Yem Chroeum, who worked as an unlicensed doctor in Roka village, has been charged with murder after allegedly confessing to reusing needles on patients.

At least 30 people who have tested positive for HIV reported having been injected by Chroeum. But some medical experts have said the odds are strongly against one doctor infecting so many people this way.

Sovannaroth said Bunheng would be called for questioning in “two or three weeks”, once Chhivun’s team has received tests back from South Korea and the United States.

Bunheng could not be reached yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

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