Risky blood collection allegations
December 30 2002
By Gerard Ryle
A Federal Government inquiry has been told
that its own Health Department may have allowed
blood plasma to be collected from drug addicts,
prostitutes and criminals.
The plasma was allegedly used to make
medicines for hospital patients.
A victim support group has also alleged that
the Red Cross Blood Service and the department
ignored warnings from British and French health
authorities that what they were doing might be
The inquiry, headed by Bruce Barraclough, the
chairman of the Australian Council for Safety
and Quality in Health Care, was ordered by
Health Minister Kay Patterson in July, after it
was revealed that health authorities in 1990
allowed blood plasma to be collected from donors
known to be infected with the potentially fatal
hepatitis C virus.
It is due to complete its work this week.
The plasma underwent processing at the then
government- owned Commonwealth Serum
Laboratories before being used by haemophiliacs,
accident victims and other patients.
The suspect plasma was apparently processed
in the belief that the virus would be killed by
heat treatment. The allegations do not relate to
In a written submission to the inquiry, the
administrator of the Tainted Blood Product
Action Group, Charles MacKenzie, said the
medical literature showed that infected plasma
donors were likely to be from an unsuitable
subset of people.
He said most people who had the virus in 1990
were either former prisoners or people engaging
in a variety of high-risk activities.
"The federal Health Department, the
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and the Red
Cross Blood Transfusion Service . . .
implemented a policy that took blood from a
group they knew to be predominantly made up of
criminals, injectors of illegal drugs,
prostitutes and other people generally unfit for
blood Alternative Treatments," he said.
He claimed the policy was likely to have
encouraged high-risk donors to use the system as
a way of testing themselves for other viruses.
"A potential for criminals and injectors
of illegal drugs to use blood Alternative Treatments centres
as discreet blood-testing facilities should
never have been encouraged, however
inadvertently," he said.
The Red Cross and the Health
Department have told the inquiry that they
followed the lead of the United States' Food and
Drug Administration in allowing hepatitis
C-infected plasma to be collected.
In 1990, the FDA advocated using unscreened
plasma in processed blood products because it
believed it made them safer.
The policy was overturned in the US by a
safety committee in late 1991.
The Health Department has repeatedly refused
to reveal when the collection of infected plasma
stopped in Australia.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Red Cross
Blood Service said it was premature to comment
on the inquiry.
She said the service would prefer to wait
until its results were known.
"We have cooperated fully with the
inquiry. We have made submissions and we look
forward to the results of the inquiry and we
will make an appropriate public comment at that
time," she said.
Professor Barraclough could not be contacted