The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Thousands exposed to bad blood

Calcutta, Oct. 11: Thousands of people across the state may have been given contaminated blood that was tested with faulty kits during the past one year.

“We fear that thousands of people taking transfusion may have received contaminated blood,” a state health department official said.

The extent of the damage that might have been caused is coming to light after the arrest of Govind Sarda, who supplied lakhs of kits that had crossed their expiry dates to government hospitals.

These kits are used to test the blood collected at seven centres in the state to check for the deadly HIV and Hepatitis B and C viruses, and venereal disease.

A health department official explained that even the most sophisticated kits did not always detect the virus. “The risk goes up by 90 per cent when tests are carried out with expired kits,” he said.

Sarda supplied several lakh kits whose expiry dates had either been tampered with or which had passed the use-by date.

Health department sources said that in the past one year, around 4.5 lakh units of blood were collected at the seven centres — Central Blood Bank, SSKM, Medical College and Hospital, NRS, RG Kar, North Bengal Medical College and Burdwan Medical College.

All seven used, in some proportion, Sarda’s expired kits. Blood is distributed from these centres to 75 blood banks — 59 state-run and 16 private — throughout Bengal.

Police, who raided several city hospitals yesterday, continued their crackdown. Officers of the anti-fraud section of the detective department conducting the operation said thousands of these expired kits were not examined before being used.

Police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee said: “Sarda was supplying kits for the past two years. It is surprising that health officials did not examine the kits which were either tampered with or had crossed their expiry dates.”

Health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said he was busy in a meeting and would be able to comment only tomorrow.

“We have sent the seized kits to a laboratory in Delhi. We will raid other government-run hospitals in the city,” said Prabir Chatterjee, officer-in-charge of the anti-fraud cell.

The health official said the recipient of contaminated blood himself is exposed to disease, but that is not all. “In the case of Hepatitis B and C, the patient might not manifest the disease but can transmit it unknowingly to others through body fluid.”

Of the 4.5 lakh units of blood collected over the past year, 0.15 per cent units were diagnosed as HIV positive; another 0.5 per cent had Hepatitis B and 0.2 per cent had Hepatitis C. An expert said: “The number may be much higher as many of these units were tested with the expired kits.”

The health official admitted inability to put a number to the units of contaminated blood. Investigators suspect the involvement of a section of health officials in the scandal.

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