WHEN SCIENCE DELIBERATELY GOES WRONG
By CAMERON DUODU
The Ghanaian Times 24-03-2015
There are thousands – probably millions – of people walking this earth today, who would be dead and buried, had it not been for the ability of practitioners of science to intervene in their degeneration, whether natural or outwardly imposed; in other words, to detect and cure ailments that have afflicted their body systems, either through illness, accidents or the infirmities created by time.
One never fully appreciates the good work done by health practitioners – doctors, nurses, laboratory assistants and other paramedics – until one has woken up from a successful surgical operation and realises that despite all one’s fears, one is – still alive. The marvelling grows as medication restores one’s weak, ravaged body gradually back to a condition as near to what constitutes “normal” in its particular case, as possible. Indeed, we do not give as much credit to men and women of science as we should. And that’s a shame.
It is personal experience of the miraculous powers possessed by modern medicine that makes many of us place total trust in our medical personnel. And it is also that personal experience that gives us a shock that goes right to the very roots of our being, when we hear that a few– probably very few – members of the medical profession not only cut corners when treating sick people, but also, sometimes deliberately make trusting patients worse than they were when they first sought medical assistance. This is such a mind-blowing charge against medical personnel that one shudders to make it. But the evidence is present, and it would be remiss of us not to unwrap it.
On 25 March 2015, a report will be published in Scotland that every medical establishment in the world would do well to force all its staff to read and openly discuss. There is an adage often employed to mock the medical profession – half jokingly – which says that doctors “bury their mistakes”. Well, this report, called “The Penrose Report” will prove to the world that institutional pressures on doctors and other medical personnel, and an insidious corporate culture that swears them to secrecy, can be as dangerous to the health of individuals as disease itself.
The “Penrose Report” has taken six years to produce, at a cost of nearly $20 million. It will describe, in 1,800 pages, what has been called “the worst treatment disaster in the history of the British National Health Service – the infection of thousands of patients with deadly diseases, through [the] use of contaminated blood products.” According to the 22 March 2015 issue of the London Mail on Sunday newspaper, the Report will tell the public how:
QUOTE: “About 7,500 people, many of them haemophiliacs, are known to have contracted HIV and Hepatitis C after being given imported blood products taken from high-risk donors such as prostitutes and prisoners in the 1970s and 1980s. Their lives were devastated, with many unable ever to work again and forced into financial hardship. Scores of victims needed liver transplants or regular dialysis, while others inadvertently infected partners and children. Health officials believe another 27,000 patients may have been infected with Hepatitis without ever being identified.
“The £11 million inquiry led by Scottish judge Lord Penrose was set up by the Scottish Parliament to probe claims that Ministers, civil servants and health authorities were slow to heed warning signs and subsequently covered up their complacency. Since it covers a period before health services were devolved, the heavily delayed findings will have ramifications across the entire country [i.e. the United Kingdom]” UNQUOTE
One instance of how this disaster occurred is that in 1983, a man asked his doctor about reports of haemophiliacs [people with a blood disease that prevents bleeding from stopping once it occurs in their bodies] developing a mysterious new disease called AIDS, that was killing its victims within a couple of years. The doctors told him not to worry. So he returned to his wife and carried on with his life as usual, interspersed with bouts of treatment for his haemophilia. Little did he know it, but he had already been given Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products. Then in the following year, he was infected with HIV. Later, the lethal virus advanced into full-blown AIDS. His condition worsened and he could barely climb stairs; he and his wife were fortunate their son was born healthy. But the roll call of deaths in his family included two of his uncles, a cousin, and several close friends in the Scottish haemophilia community.
According to the Mail on Sunday, “What makes it even worse…. is that he was part of a group of Edinburgh haemophiliacs whose medical records indicate they were used to study AIDS from the year BEFORE he was infected. Clearly, they were being used as guinea pigs. There was medical knowledge of the risks they faced – yet the patients were not asked for consent, or given warnings over their treatments.‘I find this absolutely outrageous,’ the man told the newspaper. The paper added that Britain was “shamefully slow to react to rising concerns over tainted blood supplies as the dangers emerged in the early 1980s. Calls to ban dangerous imported products were made as early as May 1983, with the first British haemophiliac reported to have AIDS that August – yet patients were still being infected with HIV from blood products two years later.”
Altogether, some 1,500 ended up with the virus, many suffering in silence to avoid the acute stigma people faced at the time.
Haemophiliacs were hit hard since they rely on coagulants made from blood plasma to combat their rare genetic condition that makes their own blood fail to clot properly. They were treated with blood plasma made from pooled donations from thousands of people, including — it later emerged– some of the highest-risk donors imaginable, such as drug addicts and prostitutes. One Canadian company was even “discovered to have relabelled blood extracted from Russian corpses as coming from Scandinavian donors. In Britain, the use of paid donors is banned since it attracts people desperate for money.” Yet imports were permitted of plasma using blood taken from American prisoners paid to give blood!
As the scandal seeped into the open, it emerged that key British Government documents had been shredded, supposedly “in error”.. One Whitehall circular quoted a British Minister as saying ‘only haemophiliacs have died’. A leaked health department memo said that while saving their lives was ‘expensive’ there was a ‘strong cost benefit’ since ‘those already doomed, will generate savings which more than cover the cost of testing blood donations’.
Britain was not the only nation hit by a tainted blood scandal. But in France, Canada and Japan, there have been prosecutions and convictions of bungling officials, while in Ireland, people given Hepatitis C were awarded payouts averaging about $1 million each. One of the lawyers who appeared before Lord Penrose’s enquiry, asked: ‘Why is it so hard for institutions like the NHS and Government departments responsible for its administration to admit publicly [that they have made] mistakes and
A reader wrote to the Mail on Sunday: “Yes I am one of these people, our lives destroyed through no fault of our own. I am glad this is now coming to light, We cannot get insurance for health, holiday, houses anything. Our whole livelihoods were taken from us.”
The NHS is expected to come under fire for the way their doctors failed to tell patients they had contracted the viruses, despite knowing themselves that they had. People were not being told they were infected. Their doctors knew their patients had Hepatitis C or HIV but didn’t tell them for years – meaning they unwittingly infected their partners [and] their children.
In 2008, an Edinburgh-based consultant was investigated over claims that he endangered lives by keeping diagnoses about his infected patients a secret. One of his patients, a haemophiliac, said he contracted HIV in 1984 but was not told until 1987. He also accused the consultant of using patients for medical research without their knowledge. A report was sent to the police and other authorities but the outcome has not been revealed.
Campaigners hope the Penrose report will uncover details about medics who “deliberately” infected patients for research purposes.”We think there is certainly a suspicion that some doctors may have taken part in practices where they knowingly infected their patients on purpose,” one campaigner said. “There is a feeling that some doctors deliberately spiked and infected people and then watched to see how the disease progressed. There are a number of people within our infected community [who] would like to see criminal prosecutions come from this.”
To us in developing countries, the question we should ask ourselves is this: If this could happen in a scientifically-advanced country like Britain, then what about us? This was done by whites to whites. What happens when there is undisclosed racism involved? Can we, in the light of such reports, altogether dismiss speculation that research scientists might have used people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as guinea-pigs in a search for a cure for Ebola?
Only time will tell – just as time has now revealed the mystery surrounding haemophilia, Hepatitis C and HIV/Aids.