Iraqis Allegedly Infected With HIV in 1980s Through Contaminated Blood Products File Civil Lawsuit
Three groups in Iraq -- including about 35 Iraqis who allegedly contracted HIV through contaminated blood products in the 1980s -- have filed a civil lawsuit against the country's Ministry of Health and two companies that sold blood products, the New York Times reports. The suit was filed by the 35 Iraqis, family members of others who contracted the virus and have since died, and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. According to Said Hakki, director of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, 189 people ages six months to 18 years contracted HIV from blood products sold by France-based Institut Merieux and Austria-based Immuno AG to Iraq from 1982 through 1986 (Von ZielBauer, New York Times, 9/4). Former Iraq President Saddam Hussein's government responded to these cases by quarantining hemophiliacs and their families in hospitals. In 1991, Hussein granted HIV/AIDS patients amnesty, but HIV-positive people were still not allowed to marry or hold jobs under his government (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/24/03). The lawsuit says that Merieux, which was taken over by Sanofi-Aventis, and Immuno, which was taken over by Baxter International, sold blood they suspected was contaminated and that the health ministry was negligent by allowing the blood to be given to patients. Baxter spokesperson Deborah Spak said the company has not discussed settling the suit. She added that Iraqis who have evidence they contracted HIV from Immuno products should contact the company's subsidiary Baxter AG, which is responsible for such claims. According to Hakki, Sanofi-Aventis officials in November 2005 offered to pay between $5,000 and $25,000 to Iraqis who contracted HIV through Merieux's products or to their families, but the Iraqis rejected the offer. A Sanofi-Aventis spokesperson said the company would not comment because of ongoing litigation, according to the Times. Health Ministry attorney Nazar Mahdi said the government is attempting to settle the lawsuit. In addition, Mahdi said officials from Iraq's health ministry, justice ministry, the prime minister's office and the country's embassy in Paris are seeking to meet with Sanofi-Aventis to "demand that they compensate for all the damage done to our victims." He added, "[T]he government delegation will take all the legal measures necessary to get compensation." A hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday (New York Times, 9/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.