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Professor Allain is innocent, say French scientists

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6941.1391 (Published 28 May 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1391
  1. O Dyer

    Two French scientists were in Britain this week to voice their support for Professor Jean-Pierre Allain, who has been in prison in France since he was convicted in 1992 of knowingly supplying in 1985, blood products potentially contaminated with HIV. Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute codiscoverer with Dr Jean-Claude Chermann of HIV, and Professor Jean-Claude Gluckmann of the Salpetriere in Paris, an expert in immunological disorders, went to Cambridge, where Professor Allain has held, since 1990, the university's first chair of transfusion haematology.

    Their visit was hosted by Professor Robin Carrell, head of haematology, who confirmed that Professor Allain's position at the university was secure. Professor Allain will also return to his post at the National Blood Transfusion Service running transfusion services for the East Anglian Regional Health Authority. The authority conducted an inquiry after his conviction, chaired by Baroness Warnock, which decided that Allain had made strenuous efforts to alert his superiors to the danger of non-heat treated blood but had been ignored.

    Haematologists and virologists outside France are almost unanimous in regarding professor Allain as an innocent scapegoat. The trial at which he was first convicted was carried out under the glare of hostile media, while the courtroom was surrounded by angry crowds demanding retribution. Convicted along with Professor Allain were Dr Michel Garetta, director of France's National Transfusion Centre (CNTS) and Allain's superior, and professor Jacques Roux, former director-general for health. Professor Robert Netter, former director of France's National Health Laboratory, was acquitted at the original trial but had to face the courts again when Garetta and Allain appealed and was then convicted along with the three others.

    Garetta and Allain, charged whit “deception over the quality of a product,” received four years' imprisonment each, although two years of Allain's sentence were suspended. Roux and Netter were convicted of “non - assistance to persons in danger,” a charge normally levelled against those who fail to help accident victims. The Court of Appeal gave Roux a three year term and Netter one year, both sentences being suspended.

    Dr Barre-Sinoussi said: “”People forget how little was known about AIDS in 1985. To try Jean-Pierre on the basis of our knowledge in 1992 was quite wrong.”

    The doctors pointed out that Professor Allain had written to superiors at the CNTS in January 1985 urging that patients negative for HIV should be given heat treated blood. AIDS was at the time viewed in France as basically an American disease, and the fact that most heat treated products came from America made the French establishment suspicious of them. It was also feared that heat treated blood could lead to the formation of inhibitors, permanently complicating the treatment of haemophilia. Professor Allain is to appeal this summer against his conviction.

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