Contamination with the Aids virus and hepatitis through blood transfusions was "becoming serious", the minister of health, Zhang Wenkang, said last month.
A typical case was reported recently in the Yangcheng Evening News. An 18-year-old youth from Shanxi province left home, and arriving in Henan province he met a Mr Wang, one of China's illegal "blood-suckers". The youth repeatedly sold his blood, receiving 30 yuan (pounds 2.40) a time from Mr Wang, who pocketed the profit when he sold the blood to hospitals or collection points. In April this year, the youth was arrested for theft and in prison he tested HIV positive. He admitted giving blood 40 times.
The blood donation law will ban all sales, both to legal and illegal collection points, and will try to encourage voluntary donors. But in the short term it will be difficult to replace all the sold blood. "In some areas it will be hard to realise the goal," said Hong Junling, deputy director of the Chinese Red Cross Blood Programme.
HIV infection is a fast-increasing problem in China. The official figure is 10,676 people but specialists admit the number could be 300,000. As in most countries, it is those most at risk of infection, such as intravenous drug users, who often raise money by selling blood.
Hepatitis incidence among blood sellers is 10 times that of voluntary blood donors.
But in China it is not just the recipients of blood transfusions who have been at risk. One of the worst practices has been at illegal plasma collecting centres, where blood was drawn, the plasma siphoned off, and then the red cells returned to the donor. But the units were not cleaned between users, so that HIV and hepatitis were transferred to the donor who, thus infected, would go on selling blood. Uncertified plasma collecting stations were in theory banned in 1996, but are difficult to police.
China's hospitals have been well aware of the risks of the blood on offer, but have had little alternative, given the shortage of good supplies.
The annual medical demand for blood in China is about 800 tonnes, but there are only about 360 official blood collecting stations. These stations accept voluntary donors and paid donors who should, in theory, have a hospital certificate showing that they have been tested. This does not always happen.
But most terrifying is the vast parallel illegal blood market, which makes up the rest of the supplies and where testing is non-existent.Reuse content