In a new study, the World Bank has raised the alarm over tainted blood transfusions across Central Asia, saying people face significant risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other deadly diseases.
In the report, released to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14, the World Bank says, "The health systems in Central Asian countries have an urgent need to improve their screening efforts in order to prevent the use of infected blood in transfusions."
Since 2006, hundreds of people, including many children, have been infected with HIV/AIDS through tainted blood transfusions in Central Asian hospitals. That includes 149 children in Kazakhstan (10 of whom have already died), 69 children in Kyrgyzstan, and several more in Tajikistan. Some 30 mothers in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were also infected with HIV/AIDS.
The World Bank-sponsored a study is titled "Blood Services in Central Asian Health Systems -- A Clear and Present Danger of Spreading HIV/AIDS and Other Infectious Diseases." The study, in which blood given by some 7,500 donors was retested, said such "retesting identified cases of HIV that had been undetected by the blood center laboratories that originally tested the samples."
The incidence of HIV/AIDS-infected blood was rather low. The study put it at 0.2 percent. But it said 2.7 percent of the samples tested positive for hepatitis B, 3 percent for hepatitis C, and 3.6 percent for syphilis.
Based on these results, the World Bank said Central Asia needs to "strengthen screening of blood donors on the occasion of each blood donation."
Dysfunctional Health-Care Systems
In Kazakhstan, HIV-infected blood was discovered in 2006 after the outbreak of infections among children was made public. However, the record-keeping system had not accurately catalogued donors, making it difficult to track the sources of the tainted blood.
The children, all under the age of 5, received the blood when they were admitted to children's hospitals in the Shymkent area.
"In one of the children's hospitals there are 150 beds and only 13 catheter [tubes]. They are using these catheters without any disinfection," Yerbolat Dosaev, the Kazakh health minister at the time, told RFE/RL in September 2006.
"It is the responsibility of local officials, not mine," Dosaev said. "If it were [my hospital], I would have sacked the local administration as of July 20," when the first hospital officials were dismissed.
Dosaev was eventually dismissed along with several health-care officials, while some hospital workers and local officials were charged with criminal negligence. The Kazakh government -- and more importantly, President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- vowed there would be no repeat of the tragedy and ordered a complete overhaul of the blood-donor system.
There are now 14 health-care workers on trial in neighboring Kyrgyzstan for the infection of children in 2007.
Kyrgyzstan is trying to improve its blood-screening system after the accidental infections in hospitals in the Osh area. The head of the country's blood-donor center, Sagynbek Abazov, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the chances of receiving tainted blood are low, but they do still exist.
"During blood transfusions, there can be accidents," Abazov says. "There is a danger because the effectiveness of the [screening] system is estimated to be 99.9 percent. That means the danger [of infection] is about 0.1 percent."
But one of the local Kyrgyz health officials facing charges of negligence for the infection of children in Osh said during his trial last month that as many as 69 children and several of their mothers may have been infected from blood transfusions.
Figures for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are difficult to come by, so the situation with their blood-donor banks is not clear.
The World Bank notes that "until recently, little was known about blood-transfusion systems in Central Asia and their contribution to disease transmission." With more data now emerging, the hope is that Central Asian patients will eventually be able to concentrate on getting better -- and not have to worry about the tainted transfusions.
Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Eleonora Mambetshakirova, and Torokul Doorov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report