PHNOM PENH - Cambodian prosecutors said they charged an unlicensed medical practitioner with murder on Monday, alleging he spread HIV among at least 106 villagers in the country's remote northwest.
Authorities detected the local epidemic of HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, on Dec. 9 when they started testing in the community in Battambang province and found children as young as two and people in the 80s had contracted the virus.
They were alerted after a 74-year-old man tested positive in November and started convincing others who had also visited the same practitioner, 55-year-old Yem Chrin, to get tested.
"We charged him with spreading the HIV virus to others, brutal murder and operating a medical service without a licence," Nuon San, the provincial court's chief prosecutor, told Reuters by telephone.
Yem Chrin admitted to routinely re-using syringes and was a well-respected local doctor who provided cheap services to the poor, according to provincial deputy police chief Chet Vanny. "He used the same syringes again and again," Chet Vanny told Reuters.
"And he even let villagers owe him the money for the services," he said, adding the accused was also regarded as having healing powers.
The case is a blow to Cambodia's so far successful efforts to cut the rate of HIV infections after the virus spread almost uncontrollably in the impoverished country during the 1990s.
"After I gave a birth to my child, I went to this doctor all the time," said a 20-year old mother, who asked not to be named, who tested positive for HIV.
"I suspect the virus may have been transmitted through injections or intravenously through a drip."
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and three UN agencies are assisting the government in the case.