HIV deaths linked to illicit blood sale

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SHYMKENT, KAZAKHSTAN — This industrial city is reeling after learning that at least 63 children have been infected with HIV through medical negligence many blame on corruption and the illicit sale of blood.

At least five infected toddlers have died after receiving injections or blood transfusions in hospitals in Shymkent, a city in Kazakhstan's most densely populated region 1,000 miles south of the capital.

Valentina Skryabina, leader of the nongovernment group Nadezhnaya Opora, which works to prevent AIDS among drug addicts, is convinced the illegal sale of blood is the source of the HIV in Shymkent's hospitals.

SHYMKENT, KAZAKHSTAN — This industrial city is reeling after learning that at least 63 children have been infected with HIV through medical negligence many blame on corruption and the illicit sale of blood.

At least five infected toddlers have died after receiving injections or blood transfusions in hospitals in Shymkent, a city in Kazakhstan's most densely populated region 1,000 miles south of the capital.

Valentina Skryabina, leader of the nongovernment group Nadezhnaya Opora, which works to prevent AIDS among drug addicts, is convinced the illegal sale of blood is the source of the HIV in Shymkent's hospitals.

"Blood is an article of trade. ... Hospitals are offered blood, and not always through the (official) blood center. People trade in blood like they do in human organs."

Skryabina said addicts and the homeless have been accepted by the regional blood center because they agreed to be paid less than the official rate of $47 for a half-pint of blood.

"Was their blood properly checked? We are not sure," she said.

Officials say they cannot comment on Skryabina's allegations until their investigation is over. Authorities do say, however, that five blood donors who are suspected to be HIV carriers weren't found at their registered addresses.

Parents in this city of 400,000 are trying to conduct their own investigation. They say regional health officials were aware of the outbreak in March and have been trying to cover it up by pulling pages from the infected toddlers' treatment records to eliminate any mention of blood transfusions.

The parents allege that up to 40 HIV-infected children 3 and younger have died, but the true cause of the deaths was being concealed or attributed to diseases such as cirrhosis. Authorities declined to comment on these allegations, too, pending the investigation.

Some 13,000 children who were possibly infected have yet to be tested. Adults, too, could be infected: So far, three mothers of infected toddlers have tested positive for HIV.

Lawmaker Satybaldy Ibragimov says nothing will improve until Kazakhstan roots out corruption, which penetrates even universities where future doctors are graded according to the amount of money they give professors — and later treat people based on their ability to pay.

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