China to Act Sternly Against Illegal Blood Deals

Six percent of some 600,000 HIV carriers in China are victims of illegal blood deals, China's health authorities said Thursday, pledging to take stern action against the black-market business.

The ratio, for the first time released by the Ministry of Health, is nearly eight times higher than previous calculation by AIDS experts, who found eight out of every 1,000 HIV-positive people were infected by the highly dangerous business.

"A large number of blood sellers have been infected with HIV due to illegal collection of blood plasma," said Deputy Health Minister Yin Dakui, who blamed some illegal blood stations which neither abided by standard procedures nor conducted HIV tests on blood while collecting blood plasma.

The stations usually pooled the blood of sellers, mostly poor farmers from central provinces such as Henan, separated the plasma, and transfused the remaining part back into the sellers, who thought the process was healthy because of the limited blood loss, Yin told the press.

Thus the sellers were exposed to high risks of becoming ill because if one person was sick, other people would get infected easily after the contaminated blood was transfused back, he added.

The number of HIV infection cases as a result of illegal blood deals is between 30,000 and 50,000 if it is calculated on the base of some 600,000, the estimated amount of HIV/AIDS cases in China by the end of last year, Yin said. But some experts fear that the actual figure could be between 80,000 and 100,000.

The ministry has announced that the government will invest heavily to perfect its blood collection and supply network, while launching severe crackdowns on illegal blood deals to curb HIV/ AIDS transmissions via blood.

A total of 950 million yuan (115 million U.S. dollars) will be used in the construction of more than 250 blood banks in 20 central and western provinces and autonomous regions whose supply of clinically-tested blood is insufficient due to lack of facilities. The Ministry of Health is formulating rules that will bring commercial plasma stations under close monitoring through strict measures, such as requirements for qualification, facilities, and working procedures.

The ministry will join hands with the police to stop the underground business of plasma collecting, purchasing and selling, the official said.

All blood provided for clinical use will have to undergo HIV antibody tests by the end of next year, according to the Plan of Action for the Restraint and Control of HIV/AIDS in China (2001- 2005), which was issued last May.

More than 85 percent of clinically-used blood should be provided by authorized blood banks, and the rest will be prepared by hospitals approved by the health authorities, says the plan.

The State Drug Administration has decided not to approve any new blood product businesses from this year, while carrying out a nationwide check of existing firms to ensure the safety of products.

Health administrative departments throughout the country also plan to check the qualification of blood plasma stations in operation.

In fact, the safety level of blood transfusions in China has been improved due to the implementation of a series of laws and regulations on blood donation, the operation of blood banks, the quality control of blood, and the investigation of responsibilities, said Yi Mei, a ministry official in charge of the administration of blood.

Only 276 HIV infection cases have been confirmed to be related to blood transfusion or the use of blood products in the past decade, Yin Dakui said.

"Objectively speaking, the safety level of blood transfusions in China has been higher than that of many other developing countries. Some cities in eastern areas have even caught up with the level of developed countries," said Gao Feng, deputy director of the Shanghai Blood Center, a World Health Organization collaborator.

People's Daily Online ---