Bloody charges

THE current "blood scandal" in France has taken a gory turn. Early this year, 4 eminent physicians were accused of treating French haemophiliacs (patients suffering from a blood disorder) with blood untested for hiv. All were convicted and 2 were imprisoned. But, the present situation is far more grim with the government being dragged into the controversy. Earlier, 2 eminent personalities, with high political connections, were implicated in the "blood scam". Francois Gros -- a former scientific counselor to the Prime Minister and renowned cell biologist, and Claude Weisselberg, famous physician and former adviser to the health ministry, were charged with "complicity in poisoning" for having been involved in allowing "the nationl blood supply" to go untested.

It has been alleged that between May and July 1985, the French government kept off the market an American firm manufactured hiv antibody test, and waited for the French firm Diagnostics Pasteur to prepare its own version. While it mulled over its strategies, hundreds probably recieved infected blood transfusion. Minutes of a May 1985 meeting of government aids advisers presided over by Gros -- where the participants discussed possible threats to French commercial interests by the American test -- have long been considered potential evidence by the French press. A special magistrate has been appointed to assess the charges and decide the trial of the accused.

"To charge some one with poisoning means accusing them squarely of murder," opines Jean-Baptiste Brunet, director of the Paris-based European Center for the Epidemiological Surveillance of aids, who from the outset had strongly urged for early hiv testing. He, however, added that technical and logistical problems delayed the testings.

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