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India happens to be the 2nd most populous country on the planet and that puts a considerable strain on its medical infrastructure. Official reports have revealed that, over the past 17 months, at least 2234 people have contracted HIV through contaminated blood transfusions.
All blood banks and hospitals are required by the law to screen blood for hepatitis B and C, HIV, malaria and syphilis before a transfusion. But new reports have shown that this doesn’t happen in a number of hospitals across the country.
The data was collected by India’s National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and was only made public after Chetan Kothari – an information activist – filed a Right to Information query.
The trouble is that most hospitals don’t have the testing facilities as such tests cost around 1200 rupees (US $18). Some of the largest government hospitals don’t have the required facilities. Even in a city like Mumbai, only three private hospitals can screen for HIV, said Kothari.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, 361 transmissions (the highest number in the country) were reported. In Gujarat, there were 292 cases while Maharashtra reported 276 cases. Just last week, a three year old boy was infected with HIV through transfusion when he was being treated for serious burns.
India currently has over 2.1 million people living with HIV and that is why it is all the more important to screen for it. The cost and the infrastructure required to maintain the blood screening system is potentially what leads to its failure.
The other side of the story is that the country has made significant progress when it comes to reducing the infection rate. According to Naresh Goyal – deputy director of NACO,
The current state is nothing to be proud of but the fact is that the we have made quite some progress. It is now mandatory for the blood banks to screen the blood for HIV before sending it on its way. Sometimes a false negative can happen because of the 10-day period when the infection remains hidden in the blood. If the blood is screened HIV in that window, it test will be negative and the blood will accidentally get through.
Blood banks do not pay the donors anymore for donating blood. This measure has been taken to reduce the number of HIV infected people from donating. However, blood is still being sold on the black market.
The rate of HIV infection through infusion has actually declined: 20 years ago, about 8-10 percent of infections were caused by transfusion. Now that number is less than 1 percent. Not only that, the number of people with HIV is dropping in the country – in 2007, more than 2.2 million people were were infected.
It is an uphill battle and several steps are needed to curb the spread of HIV. India would have to implement tougher laws similar to UK, US and Australia where blood donors are screened before and after they donate blood.