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Reuters Health Information (2005-05-31): Canadian Red Cross fined for tainted blood scandal


Canadian Red Cross fined for tainted blood scandal

Last Updated: 2005-05-31 13:00:09 -0400 (Reuters Health)

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian Red Cross Society was fined C$5000 ($4000) on Monday for its part in distributing tainted blood products that infected more than 15,000 Canadians with HIV and hepatitis C in what is dubbed the worst public health tragedy in the country.

The charity will provide C$1.5 million for a scholarship fund for students affected by the tragedy and for a project to improve health care practices.

"Red Cross deeply regrets not developing and adopting measures more quickly to reduce the risk of infection," Canadian Red Cross chief executive, Pierre Duplessis, said in a statement.

"We could have and should have done more and we accept responsibility for that. We are very sorry for the suffering that has caused and apologize to those who were infected and their families."

Around 1000 Canadians were infected with HIV before the Red Cross started testing blood. Up to 20,000 people are estimated to have been infected with hepatitis C.

The charity, which was stripped of its blood supply operations following the scandal, pleaded guilty in an Ontario superior court to violating the Food and Drugs Act for distributing the contaminated products.

As part of a plea agreement, the authorities withdrew six charges of common nuisance by endangering the public.

The settlement comes about 2 years after the police charged the Red Cross and others for failing to warn the public about the risks associated with unscreened blood, and for failing to test blood donated during the 1980s for hepatitis C or HIV.

"This is a historic day without a doubt. This is the first time that it made clear that at the heart of the tainted blood tragedy people broke the law, and by breaking the law people died," said 37-year old John Plater, a lawyer and member of the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

But Plater, who was infected with HIV and hepatitis C, was angry that there had still been no deal on compensation for the victims of the scandal.

"The most obscene thing in all of this, is here we are 20 years later, the Red Cross has finally been forced to accept their responsibility in this and we still don't have a federal government that is providing compensation to everybody," he said.

"No one is brought back to life and this is not over. It's only been because victims have constantly pressured and pushed and had to drag people involved to the table that we have gotten this far."

The Canadian Red Cross has since transferred its blood operations to a government-funded agency, and officials at the agency when decisions were made to distribute the blood are no longer there.

Former Red Cross Medical Director Roger Perrault has been charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and common nuisance by endangering the public.

The charges allege that Perrault and three other doctors knew enough during this period to warn blood recipients of the dangers and screen potential donors to reduce risks to the system. The trial is expected to continue later this year.

The case against Bridgewater, New Jersey-based Armour, which sold a blood clotting drug to the Red Cross, is also in the courts. The firm faces charges of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

($1= $1.26 Canadian)

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