An unlicensed medical practitioner suspected of negligently infecting more than 100 villagers in northwestern Cambodia with HIV was charged today with murder carried out with cruelty. Health officials say 106 people out of more than 800 tested in Roka village were found to have the virus; the Wall Street Journal puts the figure at 140. Cambodian media have reported that the infected villagers range in age from 3 to 82 years old and include Buddhist monks. A senior provincial police officer says Yem Chhrin acknowledged reusing syringes for treatment of patients, and "told us that he had no intention of spreading HIV to villagers." Al Jazeera describes Roka as "a community of about 9,000 rural farmers."
The Health Ministry said in a statement last week that a team including experts from US and UN agencies had been sent to Battambang province "to determine the source, extent, and chain of transmission of HIV infection." The outbreak began to unfold last month, when a 74-year-old tested positive; his son-in-law and granddaughter were then tested, and were positive, too. Yem Chhrin was arrested over the weekend after being taken into protective custody last week; villagers had vowed to kill the person responsible for the mass infection. A provincial court prosecutor says the 53-year-old, who had no formal medical training or certification, has also been charged with intentionally spreading HIV and practicing medicine without a license. The prosecutor declined to say what penalty might be applied for the crimes. Cambodia has no death sentence. (Read more HIV stories.)