The secretary-general of the National AIDS Authority chastised journalists yesterday for what he characterised as their careless coverage of the HIV outbreak in Battambang province’s Roka commune.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion, secretary-general Teng Kunthy chided doctors who failed to keep HIV cases confidential and journalists who, in their rush for a story, had produced fear-mongering coverage that left those who tested positive feeling isolated and ashamed.
“The study showed that those who got infected have separated themselves from society; they like being alone and are afraid to stay close to others,” he said. “I think that the figures of people infected may no longer be important, and we should [now] help increase awareness to people, and give hope to those infected.”
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, said that while mistakes had been made in the coverage of the outbreak – revealing patients’ identities, for example – the media had been right in responding the way they did, because the gravity of the situation demanded a swift government action.
“I think media reported the Roka [case] that seriously because it was an emergency signal to the authorities, who should have done things before to prevent [it],” he said. “Reporters find the truth to give people true information and help them.”
Speaking at the same discussion, Heng Monychenda, director of the NGO Buddhism for Development, which is working on the outbreak in Roka, said that his most current figures placed the number of those infected at 261.
He did, however, allow that 26 of those people said they had contracted the virus before anyone became aware of the outbreak, though they still maintained they had contracted it thanks to Yem Chroeum, the unlicensed doctor charged over his alleged role in the outbreak.
Mean Chhivun, president of the National Center for Combating AIDS, Dermatology and STDs, said he couldn’t confirm Monychenda’s figures, and said that as of January 22, his organisation was aware of 226 confirmed cases.