Pregnant woman contracts HIV after blood transfusion in Tamil Nadu government hospital

A government hospital in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, has come under intense scrutiny after it emerged that laboratory officials had erroneously transfused a pregnant woman with HIV-infected blood.

In a tragic turn of events, she was found to have contracted HIV four days after the blood transfusion, causing a huge controversy and prompting the guilt-ridden teen blood donor to attempt suicide for having infected the woman.

Who is responsible?

After a preliminary inquiry, the administration has suspended three lab technicians at the blood bank for negligently the received blood as safe, which was later given to the pregnant woman.

She has since been counselled and put on anti-retroviral to prevent replication of the virus. Local politician Rajendra Balaji said that the government will bear all medical expenses for her and even offered government jobs.

How did this happen?

The HIV-positive blood came into the hospital’s possession after the donor underwent a second blood test. The first time he tested positive was at a private lab in Viridhunagar, as part of an application for job abroad. He then approached the government hospital in Sivakasi, where a fresh test on November 30 re-confirmed that he was HIV-positive.

The hospital staff allegedly failed to properly screen this sample and mistakenly transfused it to the pregnant woman, who visited the hospital for her prenatal check-up on December 3 and was found to be . Her subsequent blood test on December 7 confirmed that she is now HIV-positive.

Meanwhile, the donor tried to take his own life amid this fallout, as his family struggles to deal with the discovery. He had donated to blood for his relative, but it was not properly used or stored in the hospital’s blood bank.

NDTV further reported that the donor had possibly contracted HIV as early as 2016 when he donated blood at a camp in Sattur.

Legal rights and action

The shocking case of medical negligence has prompted District Medical Deputy Director Manoharan to order a re-test of all blood samples collected and stored in 10 government blood banks and four private blood banks. The Madras High Court, meanwhile, has been looking into the matter since Thursday, having already directed the state government to file a status report by January 3. 

Gross negligence in the public health sector has plagued the country. Earlier this year, traces of type-two polio virus were found in vials of oral vaccine that were later administered to children in Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh — four years after India was declared as polio-free.

This recent case, moreover, amounts to criminal transmission of HIV because it constitutes the intentional and reckless infection of a person with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). According to scientists and biosafety professionals, lab workers must understand the need for caution in their line of work. The HIV/AIDS Act 2017 further protects patients’ rights to informed consent and and protects them against discrimination.

This comes at a time when despite best efforts, people still tend to conflate HIV and AIDS as one and the same. It is possible to be HIV-positive without ever developing AIDS. It is only when a patient is HIV-positive and has a very low count of CD4 cells, a glycoprotein found on the surface of immune cells which is attacked/destroyed by HIV, and/or an opportunistic infection, that s/he is diagnosed with AIDS.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius