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Aids Monday, 27 September, 1999, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Inquiry begins into contaminated blood
Plasma
Contaminated blood products could have infected 100s
An inquiry has opened in Dublin into how haemophiliacs were given blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

The clotting agents, mainly imported from the USA, have allegedly been responsible for 66 of the 68 haemophiliac deaths which have occurred in Ireland over the past 15 years.

The tribunal, headed by district court judge Alison Lindsay, was set up following an extensive campaign by haemophiliac groups who claim 103 people have contracted HIV and more than 200 have been infected with hepatitis C.

The inquiry, which will probably start hearing evidence in public in December or January, will look at clotting agents given to haemophiliacs since the mid-1970s, the way they were screened and the official response to the contamination cases.

It will also investigate the safety standards of American-based companies which supply blood products to Ireland and allegations that some victims were not told they were infected and so continued to put their partners at risk.

The Irish Haemophilia Society says the contaminated agents have affected more than 70% of haemophiliacs in the country.

Spokeswoman Rosemary Daly said: "If you were to have a plane crash or a fire where over 70% of the population was affected, there would have been an inquiry years ago."

Hope

However, she said the tribunal would give haemophiliacs hope that their questions about how they became infected would be answered and would mean past mistakes could be learned from.

"Unfortunately, people with haemophilia, because of the nature of hepatitis and HIV, are not public about their infections. Many have not told their next-of-kin, their nearest and dearest, so I feel that today is a cry from the silenced," she added.

The tribunal is based on a similar hepatitis C hearing three years ago which investigated the infection of 1,600 pregnant women through post-natal injections of blood products.

The Irish Haemphilia Society pulled out of that, partly because it did not consider its remit to be broad enough.

In the UK, up to 3,000 haemophiliacs claim they were infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood products given to them in the 1970s and 1980s.

While haemophiliacs infected with HIV have been compensated, the government is still considering its position over hepatitis C.

Up to 350,000 British citizens and 170m people worldwide are affected by the disease, which currently has no vaccine and no cure.

The hepatitis C virus can remain in the bloodstream for 20 years unknown to the carrier and can cause liver failure if untreated.

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Shane Harrison reports: "Most of the blood products were imported from the United States"
See also:

08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
27 Sep 99 | Aids
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