Scandal of infected US blood revealed in film exposé

30 October 2005  

By Liam McDougall, Home Affairs Editor
A MAJOR new documentary that uncovers fresh evidence about how thousands of Scots contracted Aids and hepatitis through infected blood is to be given its world premiere at a prestigious US film festival.

The film, Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal, made by the US film-maker Kelly Duda, will reveal new details about how inmates at a US jail were paid to donate blood despite the authorities knowing they had Aids and hepatitis.

It shows how the US state of Arkansas, under former president and then-governor Bill Clinton, allowed contaminated blood from Aids and hepatitis-infected prisoners to be exported around the world during the 1980s and 1990s to be used in the manufacture of clotting agents for haemophiliacs.

The documentary also reveals for the first time how senior figures in the prison system doctored prisoners’ medical records to make it look like they were not carrying the deadly diseases. Even after it was known there was a problem, the film reveals, blood products were allowed to be supplied to Europe, including to the UK, where thousands of patients were infected with HIV and the potentially fatal liver virus, hepatitis.

Last night, the revelations caused outrage among haemophiliacs who contracted Aids and other diseases through the blood products. They branded the findings “unbelievable” and “shocking”, and demanded that the government launch a judicial inquiry into the so-called “tainted blood scandal”.

Many haemophiliacs believe that the UK government colluded with US authorities and giant pharma ceutical companies in the medical disaster. Investigations by the Sunday Herald have already revealed that the UK’s Department of Health knew in 1981 that haemophiliacs were at risk of hepatitis infection from imported blood products, but continued to use them.

Andy Gunn, a Scottish haemophiliac who contracted Aids and hepatitis after being given the clotting agent Factor 8 from a US source in the 1980s, said: “This film shows again that we need a full inquiry into why this was allowed to happen.”

Gunn, 30, who is involved in an international legal case against the US pharmaceutical firms, said he was most at risk of contracting the diseases because he had to use clotting agent more often since he has severe haemophilia.

Duda’s film, which is to be shown at the American Film Institute Festival in Los Angeles on November 8, is the result of almost a decade of research into prison blood policy.

In the film, Bill Douglas, a former prisoner and hepatitis sufferer, described the regime in Cummins Penitentiary in Arkansas, where he regularly donated plasma.

He said: “They didn’t care if you had to crawl to get there so long as you were able to give blood. You were never checked. It was like a cattle chute. That’s the way it was done.”

Dr Edwin Barron, a medical administrator at the facility, who was so disgusted at the facilities that he resigned after around a year, said: “They did little or no screening of anybody. It was obvious to me ... that this was a time bomb that had been planted here.”

He said that despite raising concerns he witnessed needles being shared by the prisoners. In 1983, around the time that haemophiliacs were becoming infected with HIV in the UK, the prison refused to recall the products it had exported that were found to be suspect.

There are also allegations that Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, may have been aware of the concerns about the blood products. Randal Morgan, who was deputy director of the department of corrections from 1981 to 1996, said: “ It would be ludicrous that Bill Clinton did not know that the plasma programme was experiencing problems.”

The risk of infection was magnified because the US used pooled blood, meaning that the blood of groups of people were used to manu facture single Factor 8 products. One contaminated unit of blood would have been enough to infect thousands of patients.

In the UK, around 5000 Britons contracted hepatitis A, B, C and G in the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands more contracted HIV, many of whom are now dead.

The fresh revelations come as thousands of haemophiliacs worldwide are launching a class action in the US against five drug companies, Alpha Thera peutic, Armour, Aventis, Baxter and Bayer.

They add weight to calls for an inquiry into the scandal, so far refused by the UK government.

Gunn added: “It’s a murderous cover-up. They have effectively murdered thousands of haemophiliacs and got away with it.

“What’s a few thousand haemophiliacs? That’s their view.”

Duda said: “I’ve seen documents that officials in the UK were aware of the dangers. I think it’s unconscionable for there not to be a full public and criminal investigation into this.

The Department of Health has denied that there is need for an inquiry because it does not accept that “wrongful practices” were used.

30 October 2005