China launched a nationwide campaign Thursday to put an end to unsafe blood collection and supply, a major cause of the rapid spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
"I was shocked that all three AIDS patients to whom I randomly spoke in Ditan Hospital on World AIDS Day last year had been infected with HIV through unsafe blood transfusions," said Executive Vice Minister of Health Gao Qiang.
Gao made the remarks at a national television conference marking the start of the campaign.
Last December, Gao visited Beijing's Ditan Hospital with Premier Wen Jiabao. The visit gave unprecedented attention to HIV/AIDS control.
In a country with 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers, unsafe blood collection and transfusion is a significant and dangerous channel for HIV transmission. Intravenous drug use and unprotected sexual contact are other major routes.
Gao said that in the early 1990s, poor government management of the blood market led to many infections among farmers, many of whom sold plasma to blood collection stations.
"Thousands of them have now become AIDS patients, and many of them are dying in poverty-stricken areas of China. They are so pitiable," Gao said.
Thanks to the fight against illegal blood stations in the late 1990s and efforts to strengthen blood management in recent years, the blood supply is now much safer, Gao said.
However, problems remain. The current campaign aims to strengthen supervision and standardize the blood market.
Public security entities and procuratorates under the State Council will also investigate and punish people who organize unsafe blood sales and officials who fail to supervise properly.
One obstacle, which is a significant factor contributing to chaos in the blood market, is that voluntary blood donations do not meet the country's clinical needs, Gao said.
Between 10 and 20 percent of the clinical blood supply is purchased and 20 to 30 percent comes from planned free donation. The situation enables 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 blood collection, both voluntary and paid, must be carried out at authorized blood centers and stations.
A total of 2.3 billion yuan (US$270 million) has been invested in the past two years to increasing the number of blood stations in central and western China, where the majority of HIV/AIDS patients infected by tainted blood live.
An additional 25 million yuan (US$3 million) has been used to buy rapid HIV testing equipment to prepare for emergency needs in remote towns and villages without blood stations nearby.
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, hospitals still collect blood themselves. The practice, which is now prohibited, has led to many medical accidents, Gao said.
Even approved blood stations have problems, such as poor-quality testing and collecting blood too frequently from people whose livelihood depends on blood sales.
The Ministry of Health reported earlier this week that two blood collection stations were closed and one other fined for having collected too much blood from as many people as possible at low prices, and then selling the blood to processors or even hospitals at much higher prices.
(China Daily May 28, 2004)