Caixin
Feb 14, 2017 06:16 PM
POLITICS & LAW

Central Government Investigates HIV Infections at Top Public Hospital

Nurses carry out routine drug inspections in Zhengzhou, Henan province. China's health authorities are investigating an incident that resulted in five patients being infected with HIV in Zhejiang province. Photo: Visual China
Nurses carry out routine drug inspections in Zhengzhou, Henan province. China's health authorities are investigating an incident that resulted in five patients being infected with HIV in Zhejiang province. Photo: Visual China

(Beijing) — The central government said it has sent a team to investigate a contamination at a top Zhejiang province public hospital where five patients were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The task force, with members from the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is also assisting efforts to contain the infection, according to a statement the health commission released Monday.

Central government agencies decided to step in after provincial health authorities blamed the Jan. 26 incident at the Zhejiang Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine, located in the provincial capital of Hangzhou, on “medical negligence.”

Both national and provincial health authorities stopped short of saying what procedure the patients had undergone, but said all patients who had received the same treatment as those who were infected have been tested.

Medical staff had violated required protocol and reused a piece of equipment, identified only as “a tube designated for one-time use” to treat multiple patients, causing the contamination, according to a notice issued by the provincial health commission on Feb. 9.

The head of the Zhejiang hospital and two of his deputies were removed from their posts, and several others directly involved in the incident have been detained as part of a criminal investigation, the provincial health authority said.

Before local officials made a public announcement about the incident, a small team led by Wang Guoqiang, the deputy director of the national health commission and head of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, had already visited the Zhejiang hospital twice on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 to assess the situation, the state health authority added.

It’s not right for the government to withhold or delay information because it could lead to public panic, said Zhang Beichuan, a retired professor of medicine in Qingdao, who specializes in health advocacy for gay men.

If the correct procedures were followed, accidental HIV infections would be far less of a problem in China than they were in the 1990s when infections caused by contaminated blood products were rampant in some part of the country, he said.

Cases of HIV and AIDS rose sharply in China after a major scandal in Henan, Hebei and Anhui provinces in the 1990s, when farmers who sold their blood contracted HIV due to poor safety practices.

The collected blood was often pooled together before the plasma was extracted at government-backed blood banks and the remaining blood, susceptible to cross-contamination, was then injected back into donors.

Poorly trained medical workers were also found to have used the same needle on multiple donors. Officials had tried to cover up the problem for years, and it is still not clear exactly how many were infected.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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