Contaminated blood affair
|Date||1983 - 2003|
|Location||France, Iran, Libya|
|Perpetrators||Sanofi, Laurent Fabius, Edmund Hervé, Georgina Dufoix, Louis Schweitzer|
|Description||For several years in the 1980s France knowingly exported tainted blood, killing thousands.|
The contaminated blood affair was a health, political and financial scandal that affected several countries in the 1980s and 1990s following infections from blood products exported from France.
Between 1983-1985, the Centre National de la transfusion sanguine (CNTS) distributed HIV-tainted blood products among hemophilia patients while it had full knowledge of the fact, and was covered by politicians at the highest level.
Although on November 22, 1984, the French government acknowledged that the products were dangerous, Institut Mérieux, a subsidiary of Sanofi, continued to export them to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Argentina until late 1985. Particularly Iran was hard hit. By 1993, at least 1,800 Iranians were known to have contracted hepatitis and AIDS from diseased blood.
During the trial of senior managers in CNTS in 1993, it was claimed that they as well as high-ranking politicians in the French government were not aware of the risk not to examine the blood products. However, the documents published by Anne-Marie Casteret and also the French newspaper “Libération” showed that those claims were not true. One of the documents is a letter published on January 14, 1985, in which François Gros, the scientific advisor to Laurent Fabius, wrote: “Not only does the AIDS virus infect risk groups, but it can also infect car accident victims and patients undergoing surgery or receiving blood products.”
The issue was first revealed by journalist Anne-Marie Casteret, who was also a physician, in April 1991. She published an article announcing that CNTS had exported HIV-tainted blood products to other countries on purpose and with full knowledge of the fact. She also wrote a book titled “L’Affaire du Sang” in 1992 and raised many other points in this regard in subsequent years.
The problem occurred when many French drug addicts – in particular in Paris – visited blood donation centers with the purpose of receiving free sandwiches and coffee. Some of them were in bad physical health and had contracted AIDS. The failure to closely examine their blood samples and also the competition between different companies to receive more blood as soon as possible and to produce blood products aggravated the issue. Another problem was that if a blood donor was suffering from a blood disease such as hepatitis, he could have contaminated all blood products obtained from clotting concentrate groups.
France did not introduce HIV testing for blood donors until a French-made test was authorized for use in June 1985. Untested blood for transfusion and unheated, and therefore unsafe, coagulating concentrates were prescribed until October 1985. This led to tens of thousands of people being infected with HIV and hepatitis-C in different parts of the world. 
PM Fabius and his health officials deliberately delayed the introduction of testing donated blood for the HIV virus, even though an American test developed by Abbott Laboratories was on the market in 1985. Victims groups claim that the government stalled until a French test, developed by Diagnostics Pasteur, could be approved for reimbursement by the state health system.
This led to tens of thousands of people being infected with HIV and hepatitis-C in different parts of the world, including the infection of 4700 people in France with the HIV virus. More than 300 out of those individuals lost their lives.
On the basis of the existing data in Iran, in the 1980s, at least 193 individuals contracted AIDS due to the injection of infected French blood products and only less than 20 among them survived. The latest piece of research conducted shows that at least 1800 Iranians were infected with hepatitis and AIDS as a result of receiving contaminated blood products from France.
In the 1980s, the Iranian Ministry of Health and the Blood Transfer Institution of Iran did not have the possibility to conduct tests on the French HIV-tainted blood products due to Western sanctions and the problems resulting from the Iraqi attack.
Dr. Ahmad Qavidel, former head of the Hemophilia Center of Iran stated: "The main reason behind the spread of AIDS in Iran was the importation of contaminated blood products from France to Iran. The patients were not aware of contracting the virus. Therefore, they got married and spread that deadly virus in Iran.”
Since the Revolution in 1979, France, as part of NATO, was opposed to the new Iranian government. France gave big support to Saddam Hussein during his war against Iran 1980-88. The deliberate exportation of HIV- and hepatitis-tainted blood products to Iran must be seen in this context. It is also worth keeping in mind that former leaders in the apartheid South African biological weapons program have stated that the country, in collaboration with Western intelligence services, was developing and deploying HIV-based vaccines with the intent to reduce the black population in Southern Africa.
In 1992, four French doctors were tried, two of them for deception. The defendants were not charged with the contamination of patients but for the absence of information on the risk inherent in blood products.
On July 26, 1992, François Gros,scientific advisor to Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, admitted under oath, the facts concerning the delay in the validation of the Abbott and Organon tests compared to those of the Pasteur Institute. “We tried to give the Pasteur test a chance, under pressure of the Ministry of Industrial Redeployment” headed at the time by Edith Cresson.
The former director of the CNTS, Michel Garretta was sentenced to four years in prison, and a fine of 500,000 francs, and Jean-Pierre Allain, head until 1986 of the Research and Development department of the CNTS, sentenced to four years in prison, two suspended. Jacques Roux, former Director-General of health, was sentenced to three years in prison. Robert Netter, former director of the national health laboratory, was acquitted.
Before and during the trial, the officials of the CNTS implicate their supervisory authorities and their political leaders.
In 1995, the French Justice Ministry investigated Louis Schweitzer for being an accomplice in this affair, as Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. He was acquitted in 2003 and went on to become Chairman of AstraZeneca.
In 1999, a special court set up for the occasion cleared former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, now speaker of the National Assembly, Edmund Hervé, and Georgina Dufoix, all charged with manslaughter. During the trial ,chief prosecutor Jean-François Bergelin had already said that he could find no personal fault in Fabius's behaviour and that there was insufficient evidence to incriminate Fabius and his two ministers. Only Edmund Hervé, the Minister of Health, was convicted of “involuntary homicide, but exempt from punishment”.
In 2005, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death (later commuted to prison) in Libya after being convicted of infecting 426 children with HIV while working at a hospital in the city of Benghazi. By 2007 fifty-six of the children had died. 
The six were arrested in 1999 after the largest documented incident of nosocomial (hospital-induced) infection of HIV in history. The nurses' defence received extensive international support. The international experts defending the nurses concluded that the outbreak was caused by already existing infections at the hospital combined with poor hygiene measures.
France had long been seeking the release of six, and they were let go as a goodwill gesture in 2007 in connection with a visit from French president Nikolay Sarkozy, as part of Libya's attempt at improving relations with the Western great powers.
- Casteret, Anne-Marie (1992). L'affaire du sang (French). Paris: Éditions La Découverte. ISBN 2707121150