Tainted Transfusions Threaten
Ukraine With Big AIDS Outbreak
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Health authorities in Ukraine may be spreading HIV by using blood transfusions from infected people who were tested on faulty equipment, a former top AIDS official charged.
Ukraine's government banned imports of HIV-testing equipment in January 1998 to support domestic industry and cut costs by using cheaper, Ukrainian-made testers.
But the domestic testers are detecting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in only about 40 per cent of cases, Valeriy Ivasiuk, former chairman of the state committee for AIDS prevention, said Friday.
He based the charge on data collected by a government commission that double-checked the accuracy of testing equipment until last October. The commission was abolished in a government streamlining effort, and such monitoring is no longer being conducted.
It was unclear whether the commission was using Ukrainian equipment to check the tests.
The HIV detection rate in Ukraine was 85 per cent, well above the 75 per cent required by the World Health Organization, before 1998, Ivasiuk said. Now that imported testing equipment is banned, the only company that has received a government license to produce testers in Ukraine, Diaprof-Med, cannot satisfy the growing demand.
"The testers' quality is falling because an ever-increasing number of them have to be produced," Ivasiuk told a news conference.
In 1996, authorities registered 400 cases of blood donations that initially tested negative for HIV but in follow-up tests turned out to carry the virus.
In the first nine months of 1998, that number had soared to 1,544 cases, Ivasiuk said.
Blood donors in Ukraine are given money, making blood donation attractive to drug addicts and the country's many poor people.
Valeriy Shevchuk of Diaprof-Med rejected Ivasiuk's allegations that his firm's equipment was faulty. Officials at the Health Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
But the National Security Council responded promptly to Ivasiuk's inquiries about tainted blood transfusions: "According the Health Ministry's data, all blood transfusion centres in Ukraine conduct proper examination of donors' blood."
Ivasiuk's charge came as a similar AIDS-related scandal was continuing in France. Three former ministers there are on trial for involuntary homicide in the deaths of five people transfused with HIV-infected blood. The ministers are accused of delaying systematic testing for AIDS with an American-made test while a French test was being readied.
"Will it ever be possible in Ukraine to also investigate people who, in my opinion, did everything to trigger the spread of AIDS through blood transfusions?" Ivasiuk said.
Ukraine, a nation of 50 million people, has experienced a sharp rise in registered HIV infections in the past several years.
There were 22,494 HIV cases registered in Ukraine as of last November, up from 18,500 in mid-1997. The per capita figure is higher than in all other former Soviet republics, according to the Health Ministry.