07/16/2010, 00.00
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Indian children with AIDS from infected blood transfusions

by Nirmala Carvalho
Children with thalassemia need blood transfusions for treatment. In five years it has happened to thousands of children. Inadequate controls in Indian blood banks. For Pascoal Carvalho, immunologist and member of the Pontifical Council for Life, the solution exists and costs 16 euros: "We want the NAT, but the government must give subsidies to those who can’t afford it."

Jaipur (AsiaNews) - Three children who suffer from thalassemia in Jodhpur in Rajasthan this week contracted HIV after blood transfusions required to treat the disease. It is not the first time that such cases occur in India.  According to statistics, over the past five years thousands of children have fallen ill with AIDS after blood transfusion from the state blood bank.

Marwar Thalassemic Society says that in the last six months eight children have contracted HIV and hepatitis C for 43 additional transfusions of infected blood. The three children are in care at the Ummed Hospital which treats children with thalassemia free of charge. Hospital managers said they had scrupulously followed the guidelines of the National AIDS Control Organization. Both hospitals blood banks are testing to verify that the donated blood is healthy, but often this is not enough.

"Tests of blood cells are not adequate," Pascoal Carvalho, immunologist and member of the Pontifical Council for life tells AsiaNews. "We need the Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT), but since it has a very high cost it is not always done".

Performing NAT on the blood cost 1000 rupees (16 Euros) and in most cases the cheaper Elisa test is carried out: "The Elisa test" continues the doctor, "often fails to identify the HIV virus, especially since detects it only after the virus has been circulating in the donor’s blood for three months".

India’s health system is well aware of the technologies needed to solve the problem, but does not invest: "The government must urgently upgrade its monitoring system in blood banks. The problem of infection is even more tragic because they are poor families who use government blood banks.

For Pascoal Carvalho, the only positive note is that better therapies are being introduced to treat thalassemia. But the doctor calls the government on its responsibilities: "The instruments for Nat cost 400 thousand rupees (6700 million) and 1000 rupees each test, but poor patients can not afford it. Only the government can require that Nat be used in all hospitals and blood banks and provide subsidies for those who must take the test. Only then will we avoid similar tragedies in India. "

Fr. Antonio Grugni, PIME missionary and doctor in Mumbai, told AsiaNews about the health situation in India: "The number of poor in India is enormous and they can only afford public health, where there are few doctors for a huge amount of patients. You can not say that the government does nothing: the cure for tuberculosis and leprosy are free, for example. It is not true that in India there is no money. There are but are often misused by individual states".

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