Mystery HIV epidemic rages on in Vietnam village

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A baffling HIV epidemic continues to blight a tiny Mekong Delta commune, with the Vietnam News Agency reporting Monday that three more men tested positive to add to the more than dozen who had already contracted the virus.

The total number of HIV patients in Ngai Dang Commune in Ben Tre Province's Mo Cay Nam District has risen to 17.

Two have died, and eight others have developed AIDS.

Ngai Dang attracted public attention last May when the media broke the story of 12 male residents aged 20 to 62 testing positive for HIV.

The trouble began when Nguyen Van Chien, 58, went to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City for kidney treatment on January 31 and was told he had HIV.

He assumed he had contracted the virus by getting shots from Be, a retired nurse who ran an unlicensed medical clinic in a nearby hamlet.

He informed other villagers about it, and they went to hospitals in HCMC and Ben Tre for testing.

Eleven other men tested positive for the virus, six of them from one family Huynh Van Hong, his two sons, two nephews, and a cousin.

The Ben Tre Province AIDS Prevention Center then tested 31 people, and confirmed that the 12 men had HIV.

The men insisted that they did not use drugs or have sex with prostitutes, and blamed Be for using the same syringe for all of them.

But he denied the charge, saying he uses disposable syringes. He also pointed out that his patients included women and children who did not test positive for HIV.

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Be was fined VND12.5 million (US$600) for providing medical services without a license.

The provincial Health Department invited doctors from the HCMC-based Pasteur Institute to find the exact cause.

But they have been unable to determine why and how the men contracted HIV.

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