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Iraqi Red Crescent Society Sues Drug Companies

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) is suing two global pharmaceutical companies, Sanofi-Aventis and Baxter International, on behalf of Iraqi citizens with hemophilia who contracted HIV through the use of contaminated blood products. Sanofi-Aventis acquired the company Merieux, which had once sold contaminated blood products to the Iraqi Health Ministry. The Austrian company Immuno AG, which also sold contaminated blood products, was incorporated into Baxter International, which is the other defendant.

According to IRCS, a humanitarian aid organization founded in 1932, 199 Iraqis have died since the mid-1980s due to AIDS-related complications. Currently, it says there are 39 patients living with hemophilia and HIV/AIDS in Iraq. IRCS is suing the companies for $239 million in damages--$1 million per victim. Said Ismail Haqi, IRCS head, said that an out-of-court settlement offer from Sanofi-Aventis for $5,000 to $25,000 per patient, was rejected outright. “This is not enough for treatment,” he said. “Only 5,000? Is this what a patient is worth because he is Iraqi?”

Iraqi patients and their families have had to cope with not only the AIDS diagnosis itself, but also with social stigmas and fundamental misconceptions about it. Those have lead to state-sponsored hospital quarantines that separate patients from their families and healthcare providers, who are fearful of close contact. Hanan Abdul Karim, a doctor in her mid-30s, said her brother, Diaa, died of complications from AIDS when he was 16 years old. When he was eight years old, Diaa was taken out of school and placed in an isolated hospital room, where nurses were afraid to enter. “It was practically a detention camp,” she said. “He used to get his food handed through the window.”

The general lack of AIDS awareness by the Iraqi public is perpetuated by health ministers who do not admit that an outbreak occurred. Khalid Ali Jaber had five sons with hemophilia, all of whom died between 1986 and 1996. “I signed an undertaking not to talk about the reason of the disease,” he said. “I had to move house four times so people wouldn’t find out. The majority of Iraqis are ignorant about this disease. People refused to eat during the wakes I held for my sons believing that AIDS could be transferred through the mouth.”

A court in Baghdad was scheduled to begin examination of the IRCS suit on April 8, 2007.

Source: The Khaleej Times (online), March 27, 2007


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