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Red Cross Charged Over Blood Bank Scandal

Nov 22, 2002 | Sydney Morning Herald

Police have laid criminal charges against four doctors, the Canadian Red Cross Society and a United States pharmaceutical company after a five-year investigation into tainted blood.

In one of the worst public health disasters in Canadian history, thousands of blood transfusion recipients contracted the AIDS and hepatitis C viruses from contaminated blood and blood products during the 1980s. Many of them have died.

On Wednesday the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the accused failed to inform the public about the risk of HIV and hepatitis infections from unscreened blood and failed to test donated blood for the hepatitis C virus.

The charges include criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

"We're the walking wounded that are left alive, and what happened to us will never go away," said Mike McCarthy, former vice-president of the Canadian Haemophiliacs Society, who said he contracted hepatitis C in 1984 from blood collected from a US jail. "But it's better to have justice served cold than no justice at all."

The RCMP charged two senior doctors who worked in the Government's health protection branch and the former director of the Red Cross blood transfusion service as well as the organisation itself.

In the US, it charged Armour Pharmaceutical of Delaware, and a doctor who served as a vice-president of the firm.

An estimated 2000 Canadians were infected with HIV before the Red Cross started screening blood for the virus in 1985. Thousands of others have been infected with hepatitis C, a debilitating and often deadly liver disease, with estimates ranging as high as 60,000. Screening for hepatitis C began in 1990.

The head of the Canadian Red Cross, Pierre Duplessis, said the charges were unexpected and implored Canadians to remember that the organisation had been transformed.

In 1998, after the Red Cross had been hit hard by lawsuits, a government-funded agency took over Canada's blood supply.

In laying the criminal charges, the RCMP extended its investigation back as far as 1980 - which blood victims and their advocates said should make the Federal Government offer compensation.

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