PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court sentenced an unlicensed medical practitioner to 25 years in prison Thursday after finding him responsible for infecting more than 100 villagers with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by reusing unsanitized syringes. At least 10 of the infected people have died.
Yem Chrin was found guilty of cruel behavior resulting in death, intentionally spreading HIV and practicing medicine without a license, said a spokesman for the court in the northwestern province of Battambang. His trial was conducted over five days in October.
Yem Chrin, 56, was arrested last December and taken into protective custody, with authorities fearing he might be lynched by residents of Roka village, where at least 106 of 800 people tested were found to be infected with HIV. Local newspapers reported the total was 300. He insisted he meant no harm and was only trying to help people in the community where he practiced from 1996 to 2014.
The infected patients ranged in age from 3 to 82 and included Buddhist monks. Cambodia had a high HIV prevalence rate of 2.0 percent in 1998, but an aggressive campaign to promote safe sex brought the figure down to an estimated 0.7 percent last year, according to the U.N. agency that spearheads the worldwide fight against AIDS.
Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, has inadequate health care facilities, especially in rural areas, where villagers often have no recourse but to rely on unlicensed medical practitioners who have trained themselves to treat minor ailments and give injections.
The court also ordered Yem Chrin to pay a fine to the state and damages to the victims. He was barred for life from practicing medicine again, the court spokesman said.
The charge of cruel behavior resulting in death was a step down from the murder charge he originally faced, which would have made him liable for life imprisonment. Defense lawyer Em Sovann said he had not yet consulted with his client on whether to appeal the sentence.