Payouts urged for H.I.V. victims

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2012, 12:00am


An international NGO has issued a report urging Beijing to provide compensation to tens of thousands of victims of the 1990s HIV-tainted blood disaster, and arguing a fund is urgently needed as victims have been unable to get fair compensation on their own.

'China has a historic opportunity to make things right for the victims of the world's largest HIV/Aids disaster,' said Sara Davis, executive director of Asia Catalyst and a co-author of the report.

'We hope the government will respond to the thousands of families affected and create an effective compensation policy.'

The report, 'China's Blood Disaster: The Way Forward', is jointly published by Asia Catalyst, a US non-profit organisation, and the Korekata Aids Law Centre, a non-profit group in Beijing. It documents the urgent grounds for compensation and the failure of existing channels, such as the judicial system and the petitioning system.

Korekata's researchers visited remote villages to interview 30 victims of the tainted-blood disaster and studied the dossiers of another 30 victims.

Davis said most of the victims had failed to achieve redress through the legal system.

'Many courts refuse to consider HIV-related cases, and some cases drag on for years with no decision,' she said.

'Where compensation is paid at all, it tends to be minimal.'

The report is released as the annual National People's Congress opens today. During the congress, legislators will review a draft proposal drawn up by a group of policy advisers and lawyers calling for the establishment of a national compensation fund for the victims.

Davis said she was excited by the prospect that the government would address the urgent needs of the affected families, saying that over the past year 'we've seen officials begin to grapple with the impact of the blood disaster'.

The report says that, in the 1990s, state-sponsored, for-profit blood-collection centres used unsafe practices that resulted in the spread of HIV-tainted blood to tens of thousands of people in central provinces on the mainland. HIV/Aids later spread further via sexual transmission and finally children who were born to the victims.

After experts, journalists, and non-governmental organisations brought the situation to the attention of the government, authorities worked to end the problem, banning the sale of profit-based blood collection and mandating the heat-treatment of plasma.

However, hospitals made no attempt to contact people who may have been infected in the process of receiving or giving blood, allowing the infection to spread widely. And when the victims sought compensation, the hospitals often denied responsibility, in many cases telling victims that their medical records had been lost.

'A lot of hospitals said they lost the medical records, but we think they were destroyed,' says Li Dan, founder of the Korekata Aids Law Centre.

Even those who have been able to provide evidence have found it difficult to get compensation as courts have generally refused to accept cases related to the scandal.

The report also cites cases of lawyers for victims being threatened and intimidated by local government officials.

'No one knows who's responsible for courts not taking cases, but we think it's a provincial order,' said Li.

The government estimates that 700,000 people on the mainland today are living with HIV/Aids, with 65,100 of those infected through blood sales and transfusions. Li, however, puts the number of people infected by tainted blood at 1 million. Only 100,000, or just 10 per cent of those infected, are still alive, he says.

The Asia Catalyst/Korekata report says that most of those who contracted HIV via commercial blood donation were rural residents who face severe limitations in their ability to support themselves and their families, or to pay for treatment.

The report also includes statements by victims highlighting the difficulties they have had.

A man from Hubei province said: 'I'm a person living with HIV/Aids; my wife is too, so we're both ill. Who's going to raise our child? I'm the only child in my family, so what are my mom and dad supposed to do? I'm the person who's supposed to raise my kid, but I'm too weak to look after him.'

A woman from Henan contracted HIV after her husband sold his blood twice, becoming infected in the process. Her husband has already died.

'We don't even have the right to die. Sometimes I really wish I could die, but when someone dies, what will their child do? Now I really envy those who have died, they have nothing to worry about, no suffering and they don't have to confront discrimination by other people.'

The joint report recommends an independent survey to establish accurate figures on those living with HIV as a result of the blood disaster, the establishment of a fund, and an official government apology to all victims.

Davis emphasised that compensation should be made outside of the court system.

'Many countries have had blood disasters, and international experience has shown that courts are not the best way to get compensation to blood disaster victims,' she said. 'Even when courts are fair, the process takes too long, and compensation amounts are uneven.

'Every country in the world has had an HIV blood disaster, so China is not alone,' said Davis.

'We hope that China will learn from the mistakes made by other countries and make things right for the blood disaster victims.

'China is a rising superpower and it is strong enough to compensate the weakest for their suffering.'