THE Australian Red Cross Blood Service knew details of the compromised blood of people in the 1980s whose donations went on to infect people with hepatitis C.
They include donor B, whose Red Cross record included a notation in 1983 that he or she was “not to donate until April 1988” because of known risk factors, but whose blood was taken on at least two subsequent occasions, infecting at least one person with hepatitis C.
There was an IV heroin user sharing a needle in 1982 known as donor C, who had had “approximately 70 sexual partners”; or donor E, whose record in 1984 noted “Do not call until August 1989”, but whose blood was collected in 1985, and went on to infect at least one person with hepatitis C.
Details of those cases appear in a submission to the 2004 Senate inquiry into Australia’s tainted blood scandal. Campaigners Charles MacKenzie and Reverend Bill Crews thought the inquiry would help thousands of victims, many who would not even have known they contracted serious blood-borne diseases after tainted blood transfusions.
The inquiry heard evidence why federal and most state governments did not insist that blood providers use available screening methods for hepatitis C until 1990. Before that date tests were surrogates. A small percentage of uncontaminated blood donations would have given false negatives and been discarded. This appeared to be one of the most significant reasons for waiting four years until a more specific test was available.
The Senate inquiry heard evidence from women who became infected with hepatitis C after 1990 because of blood transfusions following childbirth. Some battled debilitating symptoms for years with no idea of the cause.
The 2004 Senate inquiry did not favour a compensation scheme for "tainted blood" victims, but recommended a national apology, a financial assistance fund and a case-managed response. Victims like Charles MacKenzie look at Canada, Ireland, Scotland and now Britain which have held formal inquiries and established compensation schemes. In Australia the recommended apology hasn’t even occurred.
It is not unreasonable to compare the treatment of tainted blood victims with institutional child sexual abuse victims. Like child sexual abuse, the tainted blood scandal is not going to go away.