Unsafe blood collection targeted
China kicked off a nationwide campaign Thursday to fight unsafe blood collection and supplies, a big cause behind the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
"I was shocked that all the three AIDS patients, to whom I randomly spoke in Ditan Hospital on World AIDS Day last year, were infected with HIV through unsafe blood transmissions," Gao Qiang said.
Gao, the executive vice-minister of the Ministry of Health, made the remarks at a national television conference to start the campaign.
Last December, Gao visited Beijing's Ditan Hospital with Premier Wen Jiabao.
The visit helped give HIV/AIDS control work unprecedented attention.
In a country with 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers, unsafe blood collection and transmission is an important and dangerous channel for HIV transmission. Other channels include intravenous drug use and sexual contact.
Gao said in the early 1990s, poor governmental management of the blood market led to many infections among farmers, many of whom sold plasma to blood stations.
"Thousands of them have now become AIDS patients, and many of them are dying in many poverty-stricken areas of China. They are so pitiable," Gao said.
Thanks to the fight against illegal blood stations in the late 1990s and restless efforts to strengthen blood management in recent years, the blood supply is now much safer, Gao said.
However, problems remain. The current campaign is to strengthen supervision and standardize the blood market.
Public security and procuratorial departments under the State Council will also join the campaign to investigate and punish people who organize unsafe blood marketing and officials who neglect supervision.
One obstacle, which is a significant cause for the chaotic blood market, is that voluntary blood donations do not meet the country's clinical demands, Gao said.
Between 10 to 20 per cent of the clinic blood supply depends on paid blood sales and between 20 to 30 per cent comes from planned free donation.
The situation allows illegal blood stations to organize people to sell blood and then profit from it.
The aim of the campaign, which will last more than six months, will be to shut down these illegal stations, Gao said.
All the blood collection and supply, both voluntary donation and paid, must be done in authorized blood centres and stations.
A total of 2.25 billion yuan (US$270 million) has been invested in the past two years to strengthen the blood stations construction in Central and West China, where the majority of the HIV/AIDS patients infected by tainted blood live.
An additional 25 million yuan (US$3 million) has been used to buy quick HIV testing equipment for remote towns and villages without blood stations nearby to prepare for emergency needs.
The equipment has been sent to remote hospitals and allows grassroots doctors to check the blood of local residents.
Presently, in many areas of China, such as Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, many hospitals still collect their own blood. The practice, which will be prohibited from now on, has led to many medical accidents, Gao said.
Even approved blood stations have problems, such as collecting blood too frequently from people whose livelihood depends on blood sales and poor-quality testing.
Three blood centres in Hunan, Guangdong and Chongqing were reported by the Ministry of Health to have collected too much blood from as many people as they possible at low prices and then sold the blood to factories or even hospitals at much higher prices.