EDITOR'S NOTE: For a full update from this breaking news story, please see the printed newspaper version for Friday, December 19, 2014.
Despite government-administered tests showing that more than 100 people in Battambang have been infected with HIV, Prime Minister Hun Sen said today that he was “99 per cent” sure that the results are wrong.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony this morning, the premier said he does not believe HIV infections have occurred.
“Right now, 99 per cent, I don’t believe it’s AIDS,” he said, referring to the disease which develops from HIV infection.
“They might have a virus, but it’s not AIDS . . . Can an 80-year-old person get AIDS? And can young people who do not know anything get AIDS?”
Hun Sen urged people not to jump to conclusions about the situation and instead use “all scientific possibilities” to determine what had happened.
But he also questioned the testing method his own authorities were using to determine whether villagers in Sangke district were HIV positive.
“If we bring this machine here, half of us might also find out we have AIDS,” he said. “Actually, we don’t look down on our doctors or [health] equipment. But, it’s hard to believe.”
Health agencies, however, have no doubt that they are dealing with HIV infections.
In a statement headlined “HIV cases in Sangke district, Battambang”, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, Unicef, the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say they are investigating "an outbreak."
A 74-year-old man tested positive for HIV in Roka village in late November. Since then, testing and retesting has ramped up – with the National AIDS Authority and other groups rushing to the area – and at least 106 people have now registered positive readings.
Villagers have accused Yem Chroeum, an allegedly unlicensed doctor, of administering injections to at least 30 people to treat various complaints.
Chroeum remains in custody, though no charges have been laid and his family has insisted that he is being kept away from his village in Roka commune to protect his safety.
Seoum Chhorm, the deputy commune chief, has tested positive to HIV and has threatened that he and other villagers will kill Chroeum.
In his speech, Hun Sen called for security forces to protect Chroeum, citing cases in which villagers have murdered people accused of sorcery.