Report of French “blood scandal” is leaked to press

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 15 April 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:959

A confidential report on the so called “blood scandal” in France has aroused new controversy. The leaked report comes as several French doctors and government officials are under judicial examination for their alleged responsibility in the cases of hundreds of people who received blood contaminated with HIV.

Last January the High Committee on Public Health produced a report on the therapeutic use of “human products,” which had been ordered two years earlier by Dr Bernard Kouchner, then minister of health. The report has not yet been released but has been leaked to a few journalists.

The report has been seen by some as an attempt to shift the responsibility for contamination from a few people to the doctors who have participated in blood transfusion activities. Most of the report concerns organ transplantation, but it also covers transfusion and treatment with blood extracts. It points out that the proportion of French haemophilic patients who have been infected with HIV is roughly the same as in other European countries but that the proportion of people infected through blood transfusion is much higher.

The report says, “Unlike their foreign colleagues, French transfusion doctors generally did not take advantage of epidemiological knowledge that had been solidly acquired by 1983.”

The report says that the transfusion doctors did not practise the clinical screening that would have allowed them to track down donors who were more likely than others to be infected and whose blood would not have been used.

It was only when biological testing of donors became compulsory in August 1985 that it was established that the ratio of contaminated blood donations in France was about 30 times higher than that in England. According to the report, another reason for the high rate of contamination is the tendency of French doctors to overprescribe transfusion.

The report concludes that by August 1985 most of the damage that could have been avoided had already been done. By March 1993 the total number of cases of AIDS acquired by transfusion stood at over 2000 for the 12 countries in the then European Community. France accounted for well over half (57.6%) of all cases.

The report observes that the vast majority of haemophilic patients were infected before the spring of 1985. No more than a few dozen would have been infected between 1 August 1985, the date when it was decided to withdraw unheated blood products, and 1 October of the same year, when the decision was put into effect.

This analysis of the “blood affair,” by underlining the collective medical responsibility, presents a different picture from the one that emerged from the trial and condemnation of Dr Michel Garetta and three former blood transfusion officials, and some see in the report an attempt to sway public opinion to increase sympathy for those doctors held responsible.for the scandal.—ALEXANDER DOROZYNSKI, medical journalist, Paris

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