THE health minister said yesterday he was sending back a sloppy report presented more than six months after a man died from Hepatitis B from a blood transfusion during surgery.
Christakis Andreou died from Hepatitis B at the age of 58 on April 7, almost three months after an operation in Paphos hospital during which he received blood and blood plasma from seven different donors.
The director of Paphos General Hospital, Spyros Georgiou, said the contaminated blood came from Larnaca general hospital and not Paphos.
Following a complaint from Andreou’s family, health minister Petros Petrides ordered an investigation, reportedly a day after his death. Last week, Petrides got a report naming no one and failing to trace the exact circumstances of the mistake.
Petrides, who was forced to comment on Tuesday after daily newspaper Simerini published a story, said he has sent the report back with specific questions. No one has been suspended in relation to the death.
Petrides would not comment further because, he said, that might intervene with the investigation. He also refused to elaborate on related issues dealing with blood safety.
Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), a family friend said Andreou’s family had asked for an investigation to prevent similar incidents from happening. Andreou was an orphaned special needs person who deserved better, Father Stylianos Sophocleous told CNA.
It was not immediately clear whether any other recipients of blood have been infected and no health official would say. With the proper monitoring mechanisms lacking, it is understood that it would take tremendous effort from the health ministry to find out whether others have been infected.
Hepatitis B can be spread through blood and body fluids and in most cases the virus stays in the body for up to three months, though according to the UK’s national health service (NHS) in around one in 20 cases in adults the virus will stay for six months or longer without noticeable symptoms. In those cases the virus can still be passed on and 20 per cent of those who continue carrying the virus could develop scarring of the liver or cirrhosis.
Cyprus does not have a properly functioning monitoring or haemovigilance system in place, said Loucas Lambrinos, the vice-head of the Cyprus Thalassaemia Association said.
Some 600 thalassaemia patients in Cyprus need regular blood transfusions and receive between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of all donated blood in Cyprus. That means the issue of blood safety is on top of the association’s priorities, Lambrinos said.
“We don’t want to cause panic among people. Cyprus has very good blood safety standards and low contamination rates,” Lambrinos said. He said that was down to a number of factors including the general low prevalence of infectious diseases, a tight-knit society and good screening methods before blood donation. Blood donors need to fill in a questionnaire elaborating on their lifestyle, including risk factors such as drug use and sexual behaviour. “Our labs are good and the relevant services work hard,” he said.
However, although the health ministry claims to have a haemovigilance policy in place, the association said this is only in theory. In Cyprus, private and state hospitals are provided with necessary blood via regional blood banks set up in each general hospital.
A national Blood Centre would make screening and testing blood more cost-effective and safer. The existing infrastructures could be used to better monitor blood quality, Lambrinos said. This would entail registering all incidents, not just infections, but any reactions to a blood transfusion and any near-misses.
Back in 2009, former Ombudswoman Iliana Nicolaou said the health ministry was not enforcing European Union laws on the standards for the quality and safety of blood used for patients. She said authorities had “not acted with the necessary seriousness and responsibility to respond to their obligations”.
Nicolaou said patients’ rights were being infringed, especially for those who have increased needs for blood. She added the Blood Centre at Nicosia general hospital was not adequately set up and was lacking in equipment and staffing. “We are particularly concerned by the absence of any check or inspection at the Centre before licensing it,” Nicolaou’s report said.
Asked whether the situation was now different, Lambrinos said it was not. Though he was keen to stress that blood safety standards are good, he also wanted to know why the investigation seemingly started with the family complaining. Did authorities analyse data, have there been others, were the other blood banks informed?