A Cambodian man was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday for infecting 270 people with HIV while he was working as an unlicensed doctor in a village. Yem Chrin, 57, was arrested in December 2014 after a routine health check revealed unusually high numbers of HIV-positive villagers in Battambang province’s Roka commune in western Cambodia.
On Thursday, he was found guilty of torture with aggravating circumstances, operating a clinic without a licence, and intentionally spreading HIV, said Toch Sopheakdey, a spokesman for the Battambang Provincial Court of First Instance. Besides a 25-year sentence, Chrin also faces a five-million-riel fine (1,235 dollars).
“This sends a clear message to the other doctors nationwide who are providing medical treatment without a licence to be aware,” Sopheakdey told newsmen. An investigation by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and local authorities traced the outbreak to Chrin and his reuse of tainted needles.
In Cambodia, it is common for medication to be administered by injection, which is perceived as more effective than oral medication, according to UNAIDS country coordinator Marie-Odile Emond. At least 10 villagers in Roka commune have died from complications related to HIV, primarily the elderly and very young children.
Anti-retroviral drugs have been provided to the villagers, and the government plans to build a referral hospital in 2016. Cambodia has slowed HIV transmission since its peak in the late 1990s. There are 75,000 people living with HIV in a population of 15 million, according to UNAIDS 2014 data, and it remains primarily a heterosexual disease spread through the sex trade.
The case of Roka village had also drawn attention to the fact that many rural communities are regularly treated by unlicensed medics like Chrin as the country has one of the worst shortages of doctors in Asia. According to the CIA World Factbook, Cambodia had only 0.17 trained physicians per 1,000 people in 2012, a lower rate than Myanmar, Laos and Afghanistan. In September, the Ministry of Health estimated about 4,000 unlicensed clinics operate in Cambodia