Botched Blood Transfusions In India Lead To HIV Infection For Over 2,000 People

Nearly 2,500 people in India were infected with HIV between October 2014 and March 2016 due to botched blood transfusions stemming from a lack of screening in hospitals blood banks despite laws in India making not screening blood donations for HIV illegal.

According to a Right to Information request filed by information activist Chetan Kothari, 2,234 people were infected with HIV in India in the last year and a half because of unsafe blood transfusions. The largest sample of those infected with HIV from blood transfusions came from India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, with 361 cases. Coming in second and third were the Western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra with 292 and 276 cases, respectively. The capital of India, New Dehli, came in fourth on the list, with 264 cases of HIV infection via blood transfusions.

Although laws in India state it is illegal for hospitals and blood banks to forgo screenings for things like HIV, hepatitis B and C, malaria, syphilis, and other infections, Kothari says more often than not, hospitals -- especially state-run hospitals where funding is minimal -- do not screen their voluntarily donated blood, reports BBC News.

"[E]ach such test costs 1,200 rupees [$18 USD]. and most hospitals in India do not have the testing facilities. Even in a big city like Mumbai, only three private hospitals have HIV testing facilities. Even the largest government hospitals do not have the technology to screen blood for HIV. This is a very serious matter and must be addressed urgently."

The data concerning the number of HIV-infected patients from blood transfusions in India was collected by India's National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) but was only released to the public after Kothari filed his Right to Information request. Kothari believes, however, that since the data was collected by a government organization, that the actual number of HIV-infected blood transfusion patients is likely much higher.

"This is the official data, provided by the government-run Naco. I believe the real numbers would be double or triple that."

Despite the large number of HIV contractions through botched blood transfusions, Dr. Naresh Goyal, Deputy Director General of NACO, says that those numbers were once much higher and that India has come a long way in terms of blood screening and HIV infection from transfusions.

"These are unfortunate cases and we are working towards the goal of zero transmission. Having said that, these numbers must be looked in the context of the scale of our HIV programme. For example, 20 years ago, nearly 8-10 percent of total HIV infections were coming from transfusions. Currently, that figure is below 1 percent."

According to Science Alert, Goyal also says that it's not entirely fair to blame hospital or blood bank screening processes for the high rate of HIV infection from transfusions. Sometimes infected blood gets through, he says, not because of human error, but due to the fact that HIV has a 10-day period during which it stays hidden in the blood stream and cannot be detected through the screening process. If someone recently infected with HIV donates blood within that 10-day window, the sample will give a false positive when screened.

Certainly, that can't account for every instance of infection, however. Just last week, the Times of India reported that a 3-year-old boy was infected with HIV after receiving multiple blood transfusions during surgeries to treat a bad burn. In March of this year, a young woman passed away after contracting HIV from blood transfusions she received while undergoing a caesarian section in December.

There are already more than 2.1 million people living with HIV and AIDS in India. The growing number of patients infected by blood transfusions brings to light the need for stricter screening guidelines and more funding to hospitals so that they may set up proper HIV testing facilities. Hopefully, one day, patients can receive blood transfusions without fear of contracting a deadly disease.

[Photo by Bikas Das/AP Images]