Calcutta, Oct. 14: A carton containing Hepatitis B test kits supplied by city-based businessman Govind Sarda clearly mentions the expiry date as 2007.
Open it and another story emerges.
On the 20 boxes inside the carton, the expiry date is simply stated as “005” and on the test pouches inside the box — also supposed to mention the expiry date — the use-by date is either missing or smudged.
The police today displayed to The Telegraph some cartons seized from city blood banks that had been supplied by Sarda.
“Even the date of manufacture on the carton does not match with the ones on the boxes,” said Gyanwant Singh, deputy commissioner of the detective department. “It should be apparent to anyone that there is something clearly wrong with these kits.”
So how did the hordes of doctors and technicians in blood banks across the state miss something as apparent as this'
“An inquiry is on at several blood distribution centres and at hospital blood banks as to how no one could detect the anomalies,” said a health department official. “Till the inquiry is complete, it would not be possible to comment.”
However, health department sources revealed a tale of ignorant technicians, callous officials and careless staff who ignored or chose to ignore telltale signs of tampering.
“It is now emerging that doctors and technicians had noticed that expiry dates were missing from many pouches but no one bothered to do or say anything about it,” said an official of the Central Blood Bank. “After the police raids and Sarda’s arrest, it is suddenly dawning on them that there could have been something amiss with the kits they had used.”
Health officials fear thousands of people across the state may have received contaminated blood tested with Hepatitis B and C and HIV kits that had passed their use-by dates. “Had the technicians and officials at the blood banks been a little more alert, things would not have come to this,” a health official said.
“The mismatch between the manufacture and expiry dates on the cartons and the boxes inside is there for all to see. In fact, at times it is difficult to miss it.”
Officials also pointed at faulty recruitment of technicians as the reason. “Two years ago, about 200 technicians were appointed in government blood banks but they did not have the basic knowledge of laboratory science,” an official alleged.
He said most recruitments were made on the basis of “recommendations”. “They were meant to have on-the-job training, but they never even learnt to check the manufacture and expiry dates on the cartons.”
Another health official said that since the stocks were acquired by the West Bengal AIDS Prevention Society and then sent to distribution centres, they were accepted in “good faith”.
“Everyone took it for granted that the kits were in perfect order and the thought of checking them never occurred,” an official of NRS Medical College and Hospital said.
However, an official said the “corruption” angle was being checked.