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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Doctor cleared in HIV scandal
An artist's impression of the trial
Takeshi Abe repeatedly denied any wrongdoing
A court in Tokyo has cleared a former top Aids expert of professional negligence over a scandal that exposed thousands to the HIV virus through tainted blood products.

I cannot accept the ruling that the doctor is innocent - it is mortifying

HIV patient
The former vice-president of Teikyo University Hospital, Takeshi Abe, had been on trial charged with allowing an unnamed haemophiliac to be treated with unheated blood products which contained the HIV virus.

The patient then developed Aids and died ten years ago.

The high-profile scandal, which grabbed headlines in the mid-1990s, shocked Japan with allegations of a government cover-up and unethical links between big business and bureaucrats.

Shocking verdict

Prosecutors said they were shocked by the ruling.

"I cannot believe that they gave a not guilty verdict. Is there any justice in this country?" a woman said outside the court.

Takeshi Abe
Abe had close ties with Japanese pharmaceutical companies
Ryuhei Kawada, another patient who contracted HIV from tainted blood products, said he was shocked by the court's decision.

"I cannot accept the ruling that the doctor is innocent" he said. "It is mortifying".

Takeshi Abe served as head of a government panel on Aids in 1983 and opposed swift approval of heat-treated products already being used in other countries.

Japan's Health Ministry did not ban unheated blood products until December 1985, despite knowing they risked being tainted with HIV.

Over 1,400 Japanese haemophiliacs were exposed to HIV as a result, and more than 500 are believed to have died.

Mr Abe's trial was the first in Japan of a medical doctor facing criminal charges in relation to the medication that went wrong.

'Not negligent'

The prosecutors said that Mr Abe may have opposed importing treated blood products because of his close ties with Japanese pharmaceutical companies.

Ryuhei Kawada
Ryuhei Kawada contracted HIV from tainted blood products
The prosecution had demanded a three-year sentence for him, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing during the trial.

In his ruling, judge Toshio Nagai said Mr Abe's actions could not be termed negligent because much about Aids was not known at the time.

He also pointed out that the Japanese doctor understood the dangers of using unheated blood products but could not have known that so many haemophiliacs would be infected with Aids.

In February 2000, three former drug company executives accused of selling blood products tainted with HIV were given prison terms.

The three immediately appealed and their case is still pending.

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See also:

19 Feb 01 | Health
Inquiry call over infected blood
12 Feb 01 | Health
Haemophiliacs strike protest
08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Blood: The risks of infection
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