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SOCIETY & CULTURE

Doctor Sentenced to Prison After 5 Women Infected With HIV

A doctor at one of Zhejiang province’s top hospitals has been sentenced to two and half years in prison for medical malpractice that resulted in five women becoming infected with HIV.

Zhao Jinfang, a chief technician at the clinical laboratory of Zhejiang Provincial Hospital of TCM, had alerted hospital administrators over her failure in December 2016 to comply with basic lab rules in miscarriage preventive treatments for 34 women, court documents recently released show. Five of those women later tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Escorted by hospital managers, Zhao turned herself in to police in February 2017, when she admitted reusing one test tube to collect, blend and extract lymphocytes from 34 men because test tubes were in short supply at the facility. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells found in the immune system.

Zhao was sentenced in December at the Shangcheng District People’s Court in the provincial capital of Hangzhou. Her verdict was not publicly known until recently when the document was released via China Judgments Online, a court database portal affiliated with the country’s top court, the Supreme People’s Court earlier last week.

China was hit hard in the 1990s by an HIV/AIDS epidemic that largely resulted from contaminated blood products that had been collected at government-backed blood centers in central China, though the scourge appears to have been contained over the years. But the case in Zhejiang is particularly alarming because the hospital is among the best-equipped public hospitals in the affluent eastern region.

Using one test tube for multiple patients was a gross violation of the hospital’s one-tube-for-one-patient rules. Zhao, 34, said she did so because all the male patients had tested negative for a number of viruses, including Hepatitis-B and HIV, before the procedure, according to court papers.

The substances extracted from the men and processed at the facility were late given in shots to their respective spouses on Dec. 30, 2016, as a treatment to prevent miscarriage. Within two months, five of the women had tested positive for HIV, including two who were pregnant, court document shows.

The female patients were given HIV tests after one of the women alerted the hospital late in January 2017 that her husband became HIV-positive before they went through the procedure at the hospital.

Her husband, who testified at Zhao’s trial in December, admitted having unprotected sex on Dec. 1, 2016, and fell ill before he tested HIV-positive the same month. The court did not say if he was aware of his status before he joined his wife in the preventative treatment and why the hospital failed to flag his HIV-positive status during pre-treatment tests.

It usually takes six to 12 weeks for the HIV virus to be detected, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)

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