2,234 get HIV via blood transfusion; govt claims ignorance

As many as 2,234 people contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after receiving blood transfusions in hospitals between October 2014 and March 2016, according to data released by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), but the government told Parliament it did not know of these infections.

The information was made available by NACO when it replied to a right-to-information (RTI) request filed by activist Chetan Kothari earlier this year.

“No,” was the reply the Ministry of Health — NACO’s parent organisation — gave on August 16, 2016, to a question from Congress member of Parliament and former minister Jyotiraditya Scindia asking if the government was aware that “a large number” of people nationwide had been infected with HIV while getting blood transfusion.

“The limitations of available testing methods while screening blood units for HIV in blood banks as a result of which possibility of HIV transmission during blood transfusion cannot be completely ruled out,” the ministry said in its reply.

India fell 9 per cent short of its blood requirement in 2015-16, IndiaSpend reported September 3, with prosperity dictating availability; Bihar, for instance, was 84 per cent short of its blood requirements and Chhattisgarh 66 per cent short, while Chandigarh was over-supplied nine times and Delhi three times.

NACO disputes the reliability of the data it released, claiming that it “refers to information on self-reported transmission of HIV”, and is “not corroborated by any scientific means to confirm that transmission is indeed due to blood transfusion”.

Blood transfusion is deemed “as an acceptable way of getting infected, rather than others showing bad lifestyles”, said Zarin Bharucha, pathologist and chairperson of Federation of Bombay Blood Banks.

Only South Africa and Nigeria have more HIV patients than India, where more than two million people are infected, according to a 2015 NACO report.

Despite a 5 per cent decline in the number of patients testing positive for HIV since 2007, 86,000 new infections and 68,000 AIDS-related deaths are reported every year.

Up to 95 per cent of India’s HIV transmissions are caused by unprotected sex, according to a December 2015 answer to the Lok Sabha.

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