India's largest patients' rights body led by US-based AIDS researcher Kunal Saha has demanded compensation for the hundreds of thousands of people in West Bengal who are feared to have received HIV contaminated blood as a result of faulty blood-test kits purchased by the state government.
The kits were supplied by Secunderabad-based company Monozyme India, which had clinched a contract in December 2004 after the West Bengal State AIDS Control and Prevention Society floated tenders. Countless people in Bengal are feared to have received HIV and Hepatitis contaminated blood.
"We demand adequate compensation for all victims of this 'kit' scandal. Unless you take immediate action for equitable justice for the victims, we will have no other option but to move the court seeking justice for this heinous crime," Saha told IANS over phone from Ohio Sunday.
His organisation People for Better Treatment (PBT) has shot off a letter to state health minister Suryakanta Misra drawing attention to the crisis in West Bengal's healthcare as a result of transfusion of contaminated blood products due to use of 'substandard kits' from Monozyme India.
"The hapless patients are paying the ultimate price for the failure of the inept members in the health department who were responsible for monitoring the 'kits' that were approved for testing the blood samples.
"We are shocked to notice that in order to shield the unscrupulous healthcare workers and to protect Monozyme India, a rumour is being spread in the media that the 'kits' were merely out of their expiry dates.
"All blood-test kits (whether antibody- or PCR(polymerase chain reaction)-based) that are used for detection of viruses like HIV must contain a 'positive' and a 'negative' control for proper identification of contaminated blood samples. It is impossible that a simple 'expiration' of date of these 'kits' could result in this mass scale failure of blood banks to detect contaminated blood," said Saha, who is working on HIV/AIDS vaccine in USA.
"As the largest humanitarian society (PBT) dedicated to protect patients' interests, we seek for an immediate disclosure of the investigation done by the health department to uncover the truth in this scandal," he said. Saha formed the PBT in course of fighting a legal battle against the medical fraternity after his wife died of alleged medical negligence in India during a visit in 1998 from USA.
"We demand that a search should be undertaken immediately to identify all victims of this 'kit' scandal, many of whom are still unaware about their impending danger, by inserting advertisements in popular media," he said.
Ghyansham Sarda, one of the prime accused in the expired blood test kit scam, was Thursday arrested by the detective department officers. Sarda and his brother Govind Sarda, who owns Monozyme India, were arrested in the scam.
All hospitals and blood banks in West Bengal were earlier alerted against using expired blood test kits supplied by Monozyme India.
Health workers fear that thousands of people in West Bengal, who were given blood transfusions might have received infected blood because the expired and faulty kits would have failed to detect any contamination. The expiry dates on the kits had reportedly been tampered with.
Monozyme India is said to have bagged the contract by quoting Rs.20 a kit against the Rs.60-70 quoted by rivals. The company had supplied tens of thousands of kits meant for detecting infections 'such as HIV, Hepatitis B or C' in collected blood.
Till August 2006, it had supplied the government over 140,000 kits for testing Hepatitis B and C alone, health officials said.