Friday September 21, 2001

Italy's Probe of HIV-Infected Transfusions Reopens



MILAN (Reuters Health) - An investigation into accusations that former representatives of the Italian Ministry of Health allowed blood products contaminated with HIV to be used despite the availability of tests to detect the virus will reopen in November, it was announced Friday.

The investigation by the Procura of Trento, halted by technicalities last December, followed the findings of a 1994 enquiry by public prosecutors that led to the indictment of 27 people.

About 3,500 of Italy's 5,000 hemophiliacs, who must use blood-derived clotting factors daily, were infected with HIV or hepatitis as a result of the circulation of tainted blood products, according to the Italian Hemophiliacs Association.

In the past week, the Italian Ministry of Justice announced that compensation totalling 2 billion lira ($941,000 US) would be made to some of the hemophiliacs who contracted the viruses or to their families. The Ministry of Economy and Finance has been asked to set aside an additional 12 billion lira ($5.6 million US) for compensation.

The compensation was required by a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, following the complaint of a group of 211 people directly or indirectly affected by blood infections.

The ruling followed a 1992 Italian decision that people infected as a result of contaminated blood transfusions would receive compensation of 150 million lira ($70,600 US) from the Ministry of Health. Some people filed a complaint, stating the refund insufficient, and the European court settled the situation with its decision.

But the latest move was still called unsatisfactory by Associazione Polittransfusi Italiani, a group representing those who need multiple transfusions.

``We are not satisfied with the decision of the Ministry of Justice. In fact the payments only cover some of the hemophiliacs who filed complaints, since the rest of the money has not been assigned yet,'' Angelo Magrini, the president of Associazione Polittransfusi Italiani, told Reuters Health.

``Moreover the decision only refers to hemophiliacs infected because of blood transfusions, but there are other groups of people waiting for refunds by the Italian government,'' he said.

The association wants the government to establish a ''solidarity fund'' to provide money to compensate the recipients of infected blood transfusions. According to the association, the pharmaceutical companies who have profited from the blood products should contribute to this fund.