There’s something of a problem here:
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, people with the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia in the UK were given blood donated – or sold – by people who were infected with the HIV virus and hepatitis C.
How many people became infected with these viruses as a result?
According to Tainted Blood, the group that has been campaigning for decades for recognition of the wrongs done to the haemophiliacs and pressing for compensation, 4,800 of them were infected with hepatitis C, a virus that causes liver damage and can be fatal. Of those, 1,200 were also infected with HIV, which can cause Aids. Half – 2,400 – have now died.
How did the blood become contaminated?
In the 1970s, people with haemophilia began to be given “factor concentrates” to treat their symptoms, which included severe pain and potential organ damage. Drug companies found they could take the clotting factors out of blood plasma and freeze-dry them into a powder. There was a big demand, which led to pharmaceutical companies seeking substantial supplies of blood. In the United States, prisoners and people who were addicted to drugs were among those paid to give their blood. Unfortunately, the donations were all mixed together, which increased the chances that any virus would contaminate many batches of factor concentrate. The main problem was with a product called Factor VIII.
In the 70s we didn’t know about HIV. We didn’t identify Hep C until 1988 or so. Which is the problem here. It’s entirely possible that there was official mumbling and fumbling once things were known – we are not great fans of the idea of government efficiency around here. Compensation and treatment issues might also be a concern. For example, we do finally and recently have a reasonable, if horribly expensive, treatment for Hep C. Do they get it whatever the NHS says about costs?
But the basic problem here? A treatment was devised for haemophilia, no one knew the dangers, bad things happened. That basic problem, whatever the subsequent handling, isn’t actually anyone’s fault. It’s rather like Knightian Uncertainty in economics. Well, shit, that didn’t work, did it?
Yep, callous. But what should have been done differently? No, not with hindsight, but what should have been done with the knowledge at the time? Haemophilia left untreated?