Hospitals using infected blood: patients’ rights group

March 7th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by admin  

By Sujoy Dhar
Kolkata, March 7 (IANS) People for Better Treatment (PBT), one of India’s largest patients’ rights bodies, has moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for justice to countless people who contracted HIV from contaminated blood transfusion owing to circulation of dud testing kits across the country. US-based AIDS researcher Kunal Saha, who leads PBT and is known for championing the cause of patients, has written to the chairman of the NHRC citing “appalling assault” on human rights through pathetic inaction of the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO).

He has demanded immediate investigation of fraud and corruption involved with the sub-standard HIV kits (as highlighted in a World Bank report) by a competent and independent body and assurance of safe supply of HIV test kits in all hospitals/blood banks across India.

He has also demanded adequate financial compensation for all victims who have contracted HIV through tainted blood transfusion besides punishment for all individuals responsible for procurement and supply of defective HIV test kits.

Citing a World Bank investigation report to which he was a part, Saha said: “A comprehensive report published by the World Bank in January 2008 has made scathing observation of rampant fraud and corruption in the ‘National AIDS Control Programme - 2′ (NACP-II) including the use of defective HIV testing kits at hospitals and blood banks across India.”

“I was a part of the World Bank team (as a medical consultant) that investigated complaints of spurious HIV kits that certainly posed serious threats of transmitting HIV to the unsuspecting patients in India.

“It is ironic that until the World Bank report was published in 2008, NACO has staunchly attempted to suppress all evidence of the use of poor-quality HIV kits in India,” he said.

“Apart from frequent reports of transmission of HIV through blood transfusion appearing in the news in India, our organisation has also received several specific complaints where innocent patients became HIV-positive after receiving blood transfusion, evidently as a consequence of sub-standard HIV testing kits.”

A recent case in point is a 65-year-old man of Barasat near Kolkata who died last month after battling AIDS after allegedly contracting HIV from blood transfusion in one of the city’s top-notch hospitals.

“I got the virus from Apollo Gleneagles Hospital around May 2006. I want justice and punishment for the hospital authorities,” Ajoy Mukherjee said from his hospital bed days before he died.

Saha said following the World Bank report pointing at fraud and corruption within the NACP-II, the Indian Ministry of Health had promised “immediate investigation” and “exemplary punishment” for the guilty individuals involved with the defective test kits.

“But it seems clear now that the health department has little interest to find the truth about this gargantuan human tragedy as in spite of our repeated appeals to the NACO and Ministry of Health, they have remained absolutely non-responsive,” Saha alleged.

“The investigation of this grave medical fiasco has gone into a deep slumber while ordinary people still face the danger of AIDS,” Saha told IANS.

A public interest petition (PIL) was filed last year before the Calcutta High Court with specific incidence of HIV transmission to two thalassemia-affected children who had got it through tainted blood transfusion.

However, the PIL was dismissed on the ground that the state health department was looking into a similar matter.

In West Bengal, dud blood testing kits were supplied by Secunderabad-based company Monozyme India, which had clinched a contract in December 2004 after the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society floated tenders, Saha said.

Countless people in Bengal are feared to have received HIV and Hepatitis contaminated blood since 2005, alleged Saha who way back in 1998 had started a legal battle against three Kolkata doctors whom he had accused of wrongfully treating his wife and causing her death during a social visit to India. Eventually he formed PBT.

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