Minister is 'fuelling Aids panic' in Germany: Health Minister Horst Seehofer has been accused of creating mass panic in order then to present himself as the saviour

ALREADY, four people have been arrested, and one plasma company has been closed. But few expect things to stop there. The scandal over HIV-infected blood in Germany has spread steadily, in recent weeks, and shows no signs of dying down.

The main government institute with the responsibility for supervision and for keeping the government informed has, in effect, been disbanded, after its bosses were sacked. Meanwhile, millions of Germans who have had blood transfusions have been encouraged to take Aids tests by the Health Minister, Horst Seehofer.

Other German companies may become further embroiled. And the fears are spreading beyond Germany's borders, with the revelation that infected blood may have been exported to the UK and several other European countries, including Austria, France and Italy.

The scandal exploded after an incident late in the evening of 5 October. Mr Seehofer had held a meeting with officials from the federal health institute about the dangers of HIV- infected blood, and how to minimise those dangers. Then, just before 11pm - after the meeting had finished - he was unexpectedly given a list from the institute showing 373 cases of HIV-positive blood transfusions. In Mr Seehofer's words: 'Suddenly, it went click.'

Mr Seehofer, furious that his ministry had not been kept fully informed, swung into action in a high-profile campaign which cynics saw as a damage- limitation exercise, and which some doctors criticised for unleashing panic. Mr Seehofer insisted: 'I am personally very affected by the affair, because it is a matter of life and death.'

The scandal centres on the small company UB-Plasma, in Koblenz, just down the Rhine from Bonn. Of the 10 employees, four are under arrest, accused of fraud and of causing injury through culpable negligence. UB-Plasma has been closed. The company, which supplied blood to hospitals and clinics throughout Germany, stands accused of failing to test many batches of donated blood, so precipitating an unknown number of Aids infections.

At the heart of the problem was the commercial nature of blood-testing and blood donation in Germany, which has two disadvantages. First, paid blood donations mean drug addicts have an obvious incentive to donate blood frequently. In some cases, addicts have continued to give blood even when their injecting habits were known. Second, plasma companies can have an obvious financial interest in testing less thoroughly than they should under law.

UB-Plasma which faced financial problems, had apparently mass-tested some of its blood, rather than testing each sample individually. In addition, some blood appears not to have been tested at all, or only by very rudimentary methods.

Part of the reason that the scandal has come to light is that one of the employees at UB- Plasma, shocked at the laxity of procedures, recently blew the whistle. One former lab worker also told the authorities that contaminated blood was 'treated with hydrochloric acid before being distributed in the public system'.

Tomorrow's edition of the weekly Der Spiegel reports that state authorities knew about negligence at the lab as far back as 1987 but failed to react. Der Spiegel also alleges that a doctor at the Bonn university clinic, one of the largest centres in the world for treatment of haemophiliacs, took more than 2m marks ( pounds 800,000) in bribes in connection with the scandal.

In several areas, there has been a special alert, where high numbers of patients received blood from UB-Plasma. In the district hospital in Bruchsal, south of Heidelberg, 95 per cent of plasma used between 1988 and March 1993 is said to have come from UB-Plasma. Up to 3,000 patients from that one hospital may thus be affected: all will be offered an Aids test.

Tests for anyone who thinks they might be at risk are now being recommended. The result has been jammed phone- lines to advice numbers throughout the country; there are 3 million blood transfusions in Germany each year.

The hospital doctors' association has complained of Mr Seehofer's 'over-hasty and scientifically inaccurate statements'. The president of the German medical association, Karsten Vilmar, has complained of an 'HIV show', and accused Mr Seehofer of creating mass panic, in order then to present himself as a saviour. For many, one of the main lessons is the urgent need to tighten up existing regulations. In the words of the Suddeutsche Zeitung: 'A pub landlord serving beer or a laboratory producing plasma - as far as the supervising authorities are concerned, there's more or less no difference . . . (but) whoever is served bad food or drink, throws up - and then feels better. Anybody receiving contaminated blood, will die.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before