‘Worst treatment disaster in history’ led to 175 children being infected with HIV


At least 175 children with haemophilia were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – which causes AIDS – in the 1970s and 1980s, according to documents held in the UK National Archives.

According to BBC Newswho analyzed these documents, some of the families involved are testifying as part of an investigation into the case, which has already been classified as the “the worst disaster in the history of NHS treatment– the British public health service.

The newspaper reported Linda’s story. At the end of October 1986, he discovered that his son Michael, then 16 years old, had been infected with HIV. As a child, the young man was diagnosed with hemophilia, a genetic disease that prevents blood from clotting properly.

When called for an appointment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the woman thought it was a transfer of treatment to a new location.

“It was such a routine thing that my husband stayed in the car,” she recalls, recounting, “then suddenly the doctor said to me: “Michael is HIV positive”.

“He [o médico] he communicated the fact as if he were talking about the weather (…) I told my husband and we were silent all the way back. It was a shock,” Linda reported.

Although the episode took place at the start of the AIDS crisis, the stigma disease it was already very realindicated the BBC. In 1985, dozens of parents withdrew their children from a primary school in Hampshire, also in the UK, after a nine-year-old pupil – also a haemophiliac – tested positive for HIV.

Michael did not want his friends or family to know of the diagnosis. “He never told his friends or anyone else about it, he just wanted to feel normal,” Linda said.

Between 1970 and 1991, 1,200 people with hemophilia have been infected with HIV in the UK after taking Factor 8 – at the time a new treatment that replaced the clotting protein that was missing from the blood of people with the disease.

The documents of the National Archives of the United Kingdom consulted by the BBC show that, of these patients, at least 175 children received the drug in NHS hospitals and clinics.

Tens of thousands of other people would have been exposed to the Hepatitis Ca viral disease that can cause liver failure and cancer, either through the same treatment or through blood transfusion.

About half of those infected died before antiretroviral drugs became available on the market. Four decades ago, the UK was not self-sufficient in pharmaceuticals to treat blood disorders, with Factor 8 being imported from the United States (USA).

Each batch of treatment was created using the blood plasma of thousands of donors. US pharmaceutical companies paid for blood donations – including those from groups considered high risk, such as prisoners and drug addicts.

Linda remembers hearing about AIDS for the first time in 1984, during a presentation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. All the while, the son continued to be treated with the same drug of North American origin.

In his late teens, Michael started having health problems – night sweats, fever, swollen glands and bad colds. Years later, when his immune system started to show more serious problems, he lost a lot of weight, felt very tired and lost part of memory.

Michael was transferred to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, where Linda, who had quit her job, helped him during the last months of his life. The young man, who developed meningitis and pneumonia due to HIV, died on May 26, 1995, a week before his 26th birthday.

Almost three decades laterLinda is one of the witnesses taking part in the public inquiry into the treatment of haemophilia in the English public health system.

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