Faulty and sub-standard HIV testing kits supplied by the government to hospitals and blood banks across India have exposed thousands to unsafe blood, claims an India-born US researcher. Dr Kunal Saha, associate professor at the Children’s Hospital, Columbus State College, Ohio, was part of a six-member World Bank team that investigated HIV testing in India earlier this year. “For reasons beyond my comprehension, the World Bank team went silent about the final report,” he told the
The World Bank, however, says: “The ongoing review has not substantiated any fraud involved with the kits to date.”
“I was part of a six-member team — three doctors, a lawyer and two administrators — that visited different hospitals in March and April this year to investigate charges of corruption and fraud relating to HIV testing of blood in India,” says Dr Saha.
The other two doctors — Anil Gupta from West Bengal and Usha Baweja from Delhi — did not respond to emails from HT.
“Analysis of the original test results showed beyond any reasonable doubt that many hospitals/blood banks involved with HIV testing were forced to use the sub-standard kits given by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO),” he claims.
While the team visited several states including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa, Saha visited major hospitals/blood banks in Mumbai and Bangalore, and the National Institute of Biologicals in Noida. “During my visit to major centres for HIV/AIDS testing, we collected a host of blatant and incriminatory evidence which left no doubt that fraudulent activities must have taken place during the disposition of some of the HIV testing kits,” he said.
But NACO has dismissed the charges. “This investigator has no credibility. The World Bank has not complained to NACO at all about defective HIV-kits being used in India. West Bengal did have a problem in October last year, which was contained immediately. The State AIDS Control Society had discovered that defective HIV-testing kits were being supplied to the government and had lodged an FIR with Kolkata Police. The state government immediately took action and arrests were made. The matter is subjudice and the company, Monozyne India Ltd, was blacklisted and all state AIDS control organisations were asked to stop procuring from it,” Sujatha Rao, director general, NACO, told HT.
Saha, who filed an intervention petition in the Supreme Court (SLP Criminal No. 1807 of 2007) against Monozyme India Ltd on July 6, claims there have been other such instances in the past. “The director of the Grant Hospital lodged a formal complaint with NACO several years ago but this serious allegation was brushed aside and the hospital continued to receive testing kits from the same manufacturer,” he alleges.
The SC has adjourned the Monozyme testing kit case for four weeks as the company sought time to file rejoinder.
The World Bank too has distanced itself from the charges. “The findings are personal opinions which the researcher has reached independently, and do not reflect the views of the World Bank,” Bank official Sudip Mozumder told HT.
In a statement emailed to HT, the Bank said: “The efficacy of blood testing material depends on numerous factors including packaging, storage and expert application of the test. There is no evidence that the manufacturing of these kits was defective. In addition, the ongoing World Bank review has not substantiated any fraud involved with the kits to date.”