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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend