World AIDS Day:Thalassemic patients being given contaminated blood develop AIDS

New Delhi,Dec1: Tall, lean and dark, Jaiprakash was an average 11-year-old who loved gully cricket and chips. Then, to his parents’ dismay, the peppy fourth-grader from Junagadh in western Gujarat started falling ill frequently. Finally, he had to drop out of school.

On a December morning five years ago, Jai started bleeding from his nose and mouth. Doctors at the nearest government hospital referred him to another hospital in Rajkot, about 100 km away.

He died the next morning.

It turned out that Jai, who was a Thalassemic patient since he was just a year old, had contracted HIV through blood transfusion at the Junagadh Civil Hospital. And it wasn’t just him; 35 other Thalassemic children being given transfusion at the same hospital had become HIV-infected.

Eight children of the above who received blood transfusion, died.

An IndiaSpend foray by a series of Right to Information (RTI) requests, has revealed that 14,474 cases of HIV through blood transfusion have been reported in India over the last seven years. It also revealed that the Indian government has yet to order a study or inquiry into this medical crisis that puts millions of lives at risk.

Not just that, there has been a 10% rise in the number of such cases over the last one year–from 1,424 in 2014-15 to 1,559 in 2015-16–according to documents obtained, through the RTIs, from that National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the apex government body dealing with India’s HIV/AIDS control programme. (The second of this two-part series will explore the reasons behind this crisis.)

The 10% increase in 2015-16 numbers is significant because it has reversed the near-consecutive decrease in cases in the five preceding years. NACO, however, has downplayed the rise in its report on blood banks: “Due to concerted and active efforts, the prevalence of TTIs (transfusion transmission infections) has come down significantly over the years.”

NACO’s data are based on self-reporting by people at its Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres spread across the country. Referring to this, Sobhini Rajan, additional director general, blood safety, NACO, maintained that the data are “based on responses received from people and it is (sic) not scientifically corroborated”. She also added that the “figures have come down–from around 15% in the 1990s to less than 1% now”.

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Developed countries rarely report such cases now. Canada, for instance, hasn’t seen a single case of blood transfusion-related HIV since 1985, and the US, since 2008.

While in India, one in every 100 HIV patients could be a victim of infected blood transfusion, the tally in the US is one in 300,000 cases, according to data shared by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US national health agency.

This means that the chances of an HIV patient in India having contracted the virus through a blood transfusion are 3,000 times higher than in the US.

The data shared by the CDC said it diagnosed 312,860 HIV cases in the US between 2008 and 2014. Only one of them, in 2008, was the result of blood transfusion.