Contracting HIV through contaminated blood

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Raj Shekhar was 30-years-old when he needed a blood transfusion after an accident. That transfusion, more than the accident itself, changed his life unexpectedly. Nearly a year later, he tested HIV positive when he was hospitalized after experiencing massive chest pains. Instead of being admitted to the operating room, he says, his doctor refused to perform the required surgery. His wife abandoned him soon after.

Raj is among the approximately five to ten percent of the global HIV+ population that was infected through contaminated blood five years ago. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2003 that nearly seven percent of AIDS patients who have reported their condition to the National AIDS Program in India acquired the virus after a transfusion of blood or blood-related products like plasma.

WHO research shows that regular, unpaid voluntary donors provide safe and sustainable blood supply because they are less likely to lie about their health status and are also more likely to keep themselves healthy. South Africa, for instance, has an HIV prevalence of 23.3 percent in the adult population but only 0.03 percent among its regular blood donors, the WHO reported this week for World Donor Day 2006 on Wednesday.

International health organizations have made a concerted effort to improve and secure the standards of blood collected for transfusion by proposing 100 percent unpaid, voluntary blood donation. But the world is making slow progress towards that goal. Most developing countries still depend on paid donors (many of whom are in dire economic situations from drug or alcohol abuse) or family member donors (who are often too ashamed to reveal their HIV status).

The WHO survey shows that out of the 124 countries that provided data to WHO, 56 saw an increase in unpaid voluntary donation. The remaining 68 have either made no progress or have seen a decline in the number of unpaid voluntary donors. Of the 124 countries, 49 have reached 100% unpaid voluntary blood donation. Out of those 49, only 17 are developing countries.

However, some countries such as Malaysia and India have shown progress in the last two years by applying stricter principles within their AIDS prevention programs. The WHO said Malaysia went from 50 percent in 2002 collected blood coming from unpaid volunteers to 99 percent in 2004 and India from 45 percent to 52.42 percent.

Raj was transfused five-years ago when blood harvesting programs in India had few safeguards. In this video interview, Raj reflects on how his life changed after he was transfused with HIV tainted blood.

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