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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: IT Field Engineer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line IT Engineer

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent