A Cambodian court convicted an unlicensed medical practitioner of murder on Thursday and sentenced him to 25 years in prison for spreading HIV among more than 270 villagers, some as young as 2, in country's remote northwest.
Authorities detected an epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS, on Dec. 9 when they started testing a community in Battambang province. They found more than 270 cases, the court heard, with victims ages ranging from toddlers to people in their 80s.
The case is a blow to Cambodia and its so-far successful efforts to cut the rate of HIV infections after the virus spread almost uncontrollably in the impoverished country during the 1990s.
Authorities decided to test villagers after a 74-year-old man tested positive for HIV in November. The man convinced others in the village who had also visited the same practitioner, Yem Chrin, 56, to get tested, the court heard.
"The court found Yem Chrin guilty of operating health treatment without license, injecting people with syringes that spread HIV and torturing people to die," provincial court judge Yich Na Chheavy said in a verdict read to a packed courtroom.
Yem Chrin admitted to routinely reusing syringes but denied intentionally spreading the virus. Ten of the villagers have died since the outbreak began, village officials said.
Police said Yem Chrin was a well-respected doctor whom villagers believed to have healing powers and who provided cheap treatment for the poor.