Contaminated blood scandal that infected thousands in 70’s and 80’s being investigated

In the 1970’s and 80’s thousands of people were infected with hepatitis C and HIV due to transfusion of contaminated blood that contained these viruses. A spokesperson for Theresa May, James Slack, today said that she, her health secretary Jeremy Hunt and the MPs sat together to announce a full review and inquiry into this disaster.

There is to be a “wide-ranging inquiry” said the Prime Minister’s spokesperson to address and investigate this “appalling injustice”. The families of those who were affected due to the contaminated blood would be contacted and consulted on the decision if they wish for a more private statutory inquiry with a private judge or a more public independent panel inquiry said the spokesperson. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn believed a “broad, public, inquisitive inquiry” was need of the day. Prosecution and actions need to be taken against those at fault add various MPs.

An earlier parliamentary report that came out in 2015 by the APPG, it was said that that nearly 7500 people had been infected with viruses that could be transmitted via blood. If these 2,400 people died due to infections that blood related products could carry. Of those infected, 4800 were infected with hepatitis C, a virus that affects the liver and can lead to severe liver damage that can be life threatening or may even cause liver cancer. Around 1200 were infected with HIV AIDS that leads to severe immunodeficiency and death.

For persons who require regular blood transfusions such as those with haemophilia, these contaminated blood and blood products were highly dangerous. Haemophiliacs required regular infusions of Factor VIII, a clotting factor present in blood to prevent bleeding out. They were given regular transfusions of these blood products from the contaminated blood and thus many of them were infected.

The use of the factor concentrates started in around the 70’s. Pharmaceutical companies developed methods to remove clotting factors from whole blood and freeze-dry them into a powder that could be given to the patients. The demand for blood was thus huge and substantial supplies were thus sought from donors. The donor blood samples were mixed to create these concentrates. This made diagnosing which batch was infected and which was not difficult. Much of the blood was coming from the United States from people and prisoners. They were selling their blood and since many of these were drug addicts they were likely to be infected with deadly infections such as hepatitis B, C, HIV AIDS etc. that they passed on in their blood.

Many family members of the victims who received this contaminated blood were not informed of the risks that they could be taking by consenting to blood transfusions. For several years now, there have been allegations that the whole this was being covered up. This announcement followed a letter to Mrs. May by leaders of all the main political parties earlier this month that called for an investigation into this disaster. The letter from various politaical parties including Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, DUP, Green Party and the SNP demanded that those involved should be brought into light. It read, “We believe those affected have a right to know what went wrong and why.” It is also alleged that the origin or cause of the infections was not mentioned in the victims’ medical records to cover up for this gaffe.

Hepatitis C cases came to notice in 1970’s while HIV cases being blood borne became known in the 80’s. It was then that UK government stopped the inflow of blood and blood products. But some campaigners claim that up until 1983, the Department of Health was aware or suspected blood being the cause of the infections but did not do anything to stop the transfusions that were still being given to the haemophiliacs.

The letter to the PM claims that the main incriminating documents that were associated with this accident were destroyed by Department of Health officials. The Department however has issued a statement saying, “We recognise the importance of full transparency, which is why we have published all the information we hold on blood safety from the relevant period, between 1970 to 1995.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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