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20,000 units of bad blood in flow
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Calcutta, Oct. 15: Over 20,000 units of contaminated blood have escaped surveillance and have been used as they were tested by faulty test kits supplied by Monozyme India, a company promoted by city-based businessman Govind Sarda.

Health department officials, probing the disaster to find out the number of patients who might have been given impure blood over a period of 21 months, have stumbled upon this alarming statistic.

They have arrived at this approximate number after collating data from 59 blood banks, which supply blood to hospitals and nursing homes across the state.

“We are yet to prepare the complete report with the exact numbers as we don’t have all the data for 2006,” a senior health official said.

The official revealed that from January 2005 to the end of September 2006, nearly eight lakh samples were tested by using kits supplied by Monozyme. The number will be higher if the same company had supplied kits that were past their sell-by dates, which the government bought, to private blood banks.

They have arrived at the conservative figure of 20,000 units (each unit has 350 ml of blood) using their experience that shows 7-10 per cent of blood samples collected in Bengal are discarded because of infection of various kinds like HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

In 2005, less than 2.45 per cent — a little over 12,000 out of nearly five lakh blood samples — were discarded after testing in blood banks. Data for the other three lakh samples are not available yet.

“This is a very low percentage…. In our experience, the normal rate of rejection is 7 to 10 per cent,” the official said.

For example, in 2004, when Monozyme kits were not in use, just over 460,000 samples were tested. And the number of samples rejected because of infection was around 37,000, which works out to a rejection rate of over 8 per cent.

The fear is that since faulty kits were used, contaminated blood would have passed the testing since 2005.

As health officials criss-cross the state to identify people given contaminated blood, parents of nearly 42,000 thalassaemic children are spending sleepless nights.

“Our son undergoes regular blood transfusion for his survival and we take blood from government blood banks,” said Rajendra Mullick, father of 18-year-old Chandan (both names changed).

Chandan was found infected with the Hepatitis C virus in January. Rajendra now faces the prospect of having to find Rs 2 lakh for his son’s treatment at Vellore’s Christian Medical College.

Investigators have found that the rate of discarding samples varied from district to district over the 21-month period, “which is also quite abnormal”.

For instance, the number of discarded samples due to HIV traces was 2,238 out of 248,036 in Calcutta -- a less than one per cent rate of rejection. But the percentage is much lower — below 0.05 per cent — for West Midnapore and Bankura.

“These anomalies are difficult to explain. The concern is how many contaminated units were used for transfusion. The situation is getting out of control,” the official said.

Police today raided Sarda’s home in Alipore and his office in Theatre Road. “Important documents relating to his company were seized,” said Gyanwant Singh, deputy commissioner, detective department.

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