Second lab closed in German blood scandal

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

AUTHORITIES in Germany yesterday closed another blood-testing firm as the scandal over HIV-infected blood continued to spread. A German television programme also produced new evidence regarding allegations that the Stasi, the East German secret police, sold untested blood to the West.

A laboratory in Wulfrath, just east of Dusseldorf, belonging to the firm Haemoplas, was closed overnight, accused of 'patchy' testing. Haemoplas was accused of failing to supervise its laboratories properly. UB Plasma, which has been at the centre of the scandal, has already been closed down and four of its ten employees have been arrested. It seems that several other firms may also have handled HIV-infected blood and failed to test sufficiently.

Frank Giesbert, managing director of Haemoplas, said three patients were infected with HIV after receiving blood supplied by Haemoplas; one is understood to have died. Prosecutors are examining a possible breach of legal requirements that all blood must be tested.

Earlier this week, Der Spiegel reported on the sale by East Germany of untested blood to the Bavarian Red Cross. The magazine quoted General Paul Kienberg, head of Division XX (Ideological Diversion), as asking the Stasi to handle the deal secretly, 'in order that there should be no damage to the reputation of the GDR'.

According to yesterday's television programme, some of the blood sold to West Germany came from prisons, where the giving of blood was compulsory. Der Spiegel reported that doctors were ordered by the Stasi always to answer 'no' to a routine question as to whether the donor had had 'contact with Aids, or contacts with homosexuals'.

The Bavarian Red Cross said it would never have signed the deal if it had known the blood came from prisoners. But the president of the Berlin doctors' association said the deal was a 'typical example' of how safety measures are neglected for commercial interests.

Investigations are now under way against doctors and prison staff at the Grafentonna prison in Thuringia. The Bavarian Red Cross has insisted that the East German blood was routinely tested a second time before use. The sale of blood by East Germany to the West was, for the Communist authorities, a useful money-spinner. The deal was ended in 1986, after 'irregularities' were discovered, and because of the high level of hepatitis infection.

Testing of blood from UB-Plasma has found two HIV-infected samples out of the 2,000 tested so far. Further results are due next week. There are many calls for a change in the system to prevent another crisis of confidence. In particular, there has been strong criticism of the commercial basis for blood donation.

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