Legal action should be taken if someone deliberately kept quiet, says spokesman Hong Kong Aids concern groups yesterday urged health officials to fight for justice for local haemophiliacs who were forced to rely on HIV-tainted blood clotting medicine in the mid-1980s. Their appeal came after the South China Morning Post reported yesterday how US drug company Cutter continued selling its Koate brand of blood coagulant concentrate in Hong Kong for 18 months after it launched a safer, HIV-free product in the US. The older and cheaper product was also sold in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. In Hong Kong, 61 haemophiliacs were infected with HIV through contaminated blood products, according to a government investigation conducted in 1993. Graham Smith, chairman of the Hong Kong Coalition of Aids Service Organisations, said yesterday it was 'extremely unethical' if the drug company knowingly continued to sell the tainted products to Hong Kong when a safer product was available elsewhere. Mr Smith wrote a letter to Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong on behalf of the coalition of nine member groups: 'In the interests of securing justice for those whose lives were devastated as a result of HIV infection through contaminated blood products, we therefore call on you to instigate an investigation into the matter,' he wrote. 'We would like you to thoroughly explore whether there is a possibility of a class action suit on behalf of the patients against the pharmaceutical company, and if there is, to assist the patients with instigating it.' Mr Smith said legal action would be needed if 'someone deliberately kept quiet'. He stressed that only the government would have the resources, patients' information and political power to launch legal action against the US company. As the tainted products were also sold in other parts of Asia, Mr Smith said he had already sent an e-mail to APN Plus, a regional network of HIV-positive people, to see whether there was any chance of co-operating to seek justice for victims around the region. Patrick Li Ching-ki, an Aids specialist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said that evidence revealed by the Post was not made known to the government's taskforce at the time. 'As a doctor, I am concerned if my patients were disadvantaged in the past and if their rights were undermined,' he said. 'If any of the affected patients wants to know more, I will help them to understand more. If any one of them wants to take legal action, as an attending doctor, I will help them by providing medical records and information.' William Kam Hing-fat, deputy chief executive of Hong Kong Aids Foundation, said the government should probe the issue. 'In the US, they have already compensated the victims,' he said. 'The government should look into the matter as it is also an international issue.' Cutter developed a new, safer product, Koate-HT, in 1984 by using heat treatment to kill HIV in donors' blood. But it did not supply it to Hong Kong until July 1985. The Post's investigation found Cutter had misinformed its Hong Kong distributor, saying that the non heat-treated concentrate had 'no severe hazard' even months after the US medical authorities confirmed that heat treatment could kill HIV in blood products. A spokesman for the Hospital Authority said the blood coagulating drugs now used in public hospitals met international standards.