More than 2,000 people in India have contracted HIV, which could lead to AIDS, through botched blood transfusions in hospitals across the country.
The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), part of the Indian government's Department of Health and Family Welfare, released the data Tuesday in response to activist Chetan Kothari’s Right to Information query. The official report said the contaminated blood infected at least 2,234 people during past 17 months.
The highest number of patients (361) belongs to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, while the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra rank second and third with 292 and 276 cases, respectively. The data also claimed there are currently more than 2 million people living with HIV or AIDS in the South Asian country.
“The government has been slackening on raising AIDS awareness due to budget cuts. Cases like these keep happening over and over again and no action is taken against erring hospitals and blood banks. This is an extremely serious issue, and the government needs to address it urgently,” said Kothari.
Speaking to the BBC, he also expressed well-founded concern that the real number might be double or triple the official figure.
Considering about 84 percent of blood used in hospital transfusions comes from volunteers, it is legally mandatory for all hospitals to screen donors and the donated blood for HIV, hepatitis B and C, malaria and other infections.
However, most hospitals do not have the means to screen the blood for possible infections and viruses.
Then, there is the illegal blood donation in the South Asian country. A 2015 report highlighted the rising number of “blood farms” in the country where poor people sell their blood for miniscule pay. It has also become a means of income for drug addicts in the country.
“These are unfortunate cases and we are working towards the goal of zero transmission. Twenty years ago, nearly 8-10 percent of total HIV infections were coming to transfusions. Currently, that figure is below one percent,” Deputy Director General of NACO Naresh Goyal told The Hindu newspaper. “We have conquered this route of infection. It is now legally mandatory for every blood bank to screening the units before giving it to a patient.”
He said in some cases the blood sample might show a false negative if donor was in a “window period.”
Earlier this month, a 3-year-old boy was allegedly infected with HIV after undergoing a blood transfusion at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital in the state of Assam.