Health chief hits out in HIV crisis

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The Independent Online
BONN - Horst Seehofer, the German Health Minister, yesterday hit back at critics who have accused him of causing panic over the HIV blood scandal in Germany, writes Steve Crawshaw.

Mr Seehofer, in an interview with Die Welt newspaper, complained that the attacks on him were a 'strategy of making things harmless and hushing things up'. He said complaints that he had created unnecessary panic were a disgrace. His comments underline one of the most notable features of the tainted blood crisis. Usually, ministers seek to calm the population, while critics accuse them of hushing things up; in Mr Seehofer's case, the opposite is true.

The firm at the centre of the scandal, UB-Plasma, has been closed and four of its 10 employees arrested. But in addition to the dubious practices at UB-Plasma one key problem has been the failure to act on, and to pass on, crucial information about UB-Plasma. The authorities in Koblenz, where UB-Plasma was based, yesterday confirmed that suspicions about its procedures dated back to 1987 but no action had been taken then.

UB-Plasma did not test the blood that it sold sufficiently, with the result that an unknown number of HIV-infected blood samples got through the system. More than 2,000 people in Germany are known to have become infected, through blood transfusions. The majority of these were, however, before reliable testing was introduced in 1985.

Doctors have sought to contain the panic, by emphasising that the chances of becoming infected with HIV from a blood transfusion are still tiny and, in any case, incomparably lower than the dangers from not having a blood transfusion.