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Friday, June 14, 2013

Panic In Assam After Transfusion Of HIV Infected Blood

By Sarita Deshpande / Guwahati

On World Blood Donor Day, that is today (14 June), the world came crashing down for Mukul (name changed) when he was told that he was HIV positive. It was never his fault. He contacted the disease after being administered infected blood at Mangaldoi Civil Hospital in Assam. He was admitted in the hospital in September 2012 for melena (a form of stomach ulcer) and needed blood transfusion. The blood was arranged by the blood bank of the hospital.
“After I was released from the hospital, I started suffering from frequent fever and headaches. I went to a doctor who asked me to take a blood test. I was shocked when the reports said I was HIV positive. There was no way I could have contacted the disease, but for the blood I was administered,” a devastated Mukul told INN.

“A person named Jehirul Islam donated blood to me. The hospital never tested it before transfusion. Today my world has ended. The government should take strict action against the blood bank authorities and also arrest Islam. Or else, I will have to opt for the legal recourse,” he said.

Worse, Mukul is not the only one. Apparently, three more cases have surfaced and all received blood from Islam. There are also allegations that Islam is a professional blood donor and has donated blood 80 times to the blood bank concerned. The man himself, however, dismisses the allegations as false.

“These are false media reports. I donated blood only four times, the first time being 9-10 months back and with good intention after one of my friends approached me for blood. I never knew I was HIV positive and I still do not know about it. It was the responsibility of the blood bank to test my blood before giving it to someone else. And also as alleged I did not donate blood every month,” he told.

The incident has sent shock waves across the state, creating panic among all those who received blood at Mangaldoi Civil Hospital and elsewhere in Assam. The state has a total of 63 blood banks – 26 public and 37 private.

Following media reports, the state government has swung into action immediately with Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asking an additional chief secretary-rank bureaucrat to enquire into the matter and submit a report quickly.

“We will find out if there were any lapse either in collection or transfusion of blood. We have formed a three-member team with a member each from the National Rural Health Mission, the Darrang district administration and Gauhati Medical College. The team is visiting Mangaldoi Civil Hospital tomorrow and I expect the report by tomorrow evening,” Assam Additional Chief Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Prem Prasad Varma told INN from Guwahati.

Varma, however, refused to comment on lapses or put any accountability without the report. “We do not believe such a thing has happened. Our doctors are well-trained for such things and every standard precautionary measures are usually followed. Still we are taking the media reports very seriously. We will act on the matter only after the detailed report,” he said.

What is a cause of concern is there is no specific information if there are more HIV infected people due to blood transfusion as the symptoms do not show up quickly. However, the additional chief secretary ruled out the possibility of similar incidents happening on a massive scale.

“We are stringent while operating blood banks. Moreover, we will have to establish if they were infected because of the blood bank or for some other reasons. It is quite possible they were infected by other sources although it is difficult to establish that,” Varma said.

The government made it clear that the blood banks across Assam will function normally.

“We will study the report and based on that we will issue necessary advisory to all blood banks of the state. We do not want to be drawn into this kind of a situation,” Varma said.

Soon after the news spread, people gathered at the hospital and blamed the Darrang district administration of not doing enough. “Even the deputy commissioner did not come to hospital to check what is happening,” a citizen told. The district administration, however, rejected any lapses on its part.

“The deputy commissioner immediately ordered for a magisterial enquiry. I am entrusted with the responsibility of submitting a report within a week. All actions whether police or administrative will be taken if the need arises,” said Darrang district Additonal Deputy Commissioner A Chakrabarty.

Meanwhile, the four victims who contacted HIV are in a state of shock. They are in need counselling to cope with this harsh reality.

“We would provide counselling to the patients. We would also like to organise awareness campaigns. But it is also a fact that we have received no funds in 2013,” Additional Secretary, Assam Health and Family Welfare Department and Assam State Aids Control Society, Project Director, Purabi Sonowal told INN from Guwahati.

“We are sending a team for spot verification. Blood banks are not under our jurisdiction. We will submit a report to the government within a week,” Sonowal said.

While the Assam State HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Policy strives “to ensure prevention of hospital acquired infections for a safe environment, [and] to strengthen safe blood transfusion system both at the government and private institutions”, the reality seems starkly different.
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