China's blood still unsafe, needs help -report

BEIJING, Sept 6 (Reuters) - China's blood supply is still not being properly monitored for HIV/AIDS a decade after a blood-selling scandal, and it needs international help to tackle the problem, a report said on Thursday.

The government has tried to clean up the sector after hundreds of thousands of farmers in central Henan province were infected in the 1990s through schemes in which people sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run health clinics.

Then-Health Minister Gao Qiang admitted in a speech earlier this summer that China's blood donation system was far from perfect and safety worries remained.

"The demand for blood and blood products is growing in China, and supply is short," said Sara Davis, co-author of the report and director of Asia Catalyst, a New York-based group that helps non-government organisations in Asia.

"This creates an economic incentive for hospitals to rely on illegal, untested blood donations, and that fuels the spread of AIDS," she added in a separate statement.

In June, the food and drug regulator said it had discovered fake plasma being used in at least 18 hospitals in northeastern China.

"China is not alone," Davis said. "Most developed countries have dealt with similar AIDS blood scandals, and they should step forward to offer assistance to China."

An estimated 650,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in China, and health experts say the disease is moving into the general population with most new infections now spread sexually, although drug-users follow closely behind.

While other countries such as Japan and France, which have also had problems with infections through blood transfusions, have taken effective measures to ensure no repeat of past scandals, that is not the case in China.

"Today, China's blood supply remains dangerously unsafe. Around the country, patients who check into hospitals for routine surgery may check out with HIV/AIDS as a result of hospital blood transfusions," the report said.

"In China, where the AIDS blood transmission outbreak in some provinces dwarfs those of Japan and France ..., health officials who acted negligently or criminally while directly profitting from the causes of the blood scandal have rarely been held personally accountable," it added.

The government should set up a compensation fund for those infected by transfusions and order courts to accept all lawsuits from these victims, the report recommended.

"Haemophiliacs and other patients infected with HIV through blood and blood products provided by hospitals have suffered physical and emotional pain and suffering caused directly by those hospitals and clinics," it said.

"They are entitled to reparations for these violations of their rights."