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Blood Plasma Economy Accelerates AIDS Crisis in China

Sing Tao Daily, News Report, by Kam Tsang based on Sing Tao China Bureau Reports Posted: Aug 01, 2003

The July 28 edition of the US edition of the Sing Tao newspaper carried a full page story of over a million people dying of AIDS in the Henan Province of China.

AIDS in China is not at all limited to the Wen Lou Village, nicknamed "AIDS village", which by now has been widely reported in various Chinese language media. Sing Tao reported that there are actually other villages or even counties in China in which a majority of the population carries the AIDS virus.

In February 2003, China received 30 million dollars from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the multi-country HIV/AIDS program of the World Bank. Unfortunately the fund allocated was earmarked only for the prevention of tuberculosis and malaria, because China would admit to having only about 30,000 AIDS infected people in its population.

AIDS in ChinaAccording to Sing Tao, a well known (but unnamed) medical expert estimated around 1.2 million people with AIDS in the Henan Province alone. The estimate is based on recent volunteer work in Henan.

Between the years 1991 to 1995, there was a "Blood Plasma Economy" campaign organized by the Henan Province government. The basic idea was to give blood plasma in exchange for money, which attracted over 3 million mostly peasants to participate, and it is estimated that between 40 to 60 percent of these people have subsequently contracted AIDS. Biotech firms have a huge demand for blood plasma as a source of blood protein and Immunoglobulin. The "Blood Plasma Economy" campaign quickly became a huge success for all the middlemen, and touted as the fast way, if not the only way, to break out of the underclass.

The extraction of plasma is a three step process: a bag of blood is extracted out of a person's body; the blood is placed in a centrifuge machine to extract the blood plasma; after the plasma is extracted, the same blood is pumped back into the person's body. Since it was a booming business in its heydays and the donors were mostly uneducated farmers, proper sterilization procedures were not a major concern. Not only were needles recycled, so were the bags which held the blood, and other instruments and containers which had direct contact with human blood.

And to speed things up, the wait for step two was eliminated in some blood stations. A donor was simply given blood from previous donors with the same blood type and sent on his way while his blood was being processed in the centrifuge machine. There were reports that even people who tested positive with Hepatitis B were allowed to give blood; their blood plasma were simply placed in a different pile.

It has been almost a decade since the conclusion of the "Blood Plasma Economy" campaign. Many of the AIDS carriers have married, had children, or moved to other parts of China carrying the problem with them. It seems this problem is not likely to get any better soon.

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