BEIJING, Sep 14 (Reuters) China's efforts to clean up an unsafe blood supply chain, blamed for many HIV infections, has led to a severe shortage of an effective haemophilia drug and put tens of thousands of patients in danger.
Some haemophiliacs in China had died since July because they could not get any factor 8 -- a protein necessary for blood clotting -- to stop bleeding, the Beijing News said today.
The shortage was caused by shrinking plasma supplies after the government launched a campaign in 2004 to shut down small blood collection centres and beef up safety measures in the manufacture of blood-based drugs, the newspaper said.
Plasma made into the drugs in the country had dropped from up to 5,000 tonnes to less than 3,000 tonnes a year, it added.
Plasma procured now also needs to be stored for 90 days and screened for HIV or Hepatitis C before being processed.
Even big hospitals in major cities had little or no stocks of factor 8 as only three pharmaceutical companies in China were still making the drug, the Beijing News said.
The situation has prompted a dozen mutual-help groups of haemophiliacs to write an open letter seeking help from state leaders.
''We appeal to the government to take urgent action to import large amounts of factor 8 from abroad and save the lives of Chinese haemophilia sufferers,'' said the letter addressed to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
The Health Ministry had vowed to allocate more plasma for factor 8 production, but officials gave no hint on whether the ban on imports of foreign-made blood products -- in place since 1986 for fear of HIV -- would be lifted, the Beijing News said.
The hereditary disease is a blood clotting disorder which affects one in about 10,000 men, leading to a great risk of bleeding from common injuries. Women are rarely affected.
Because of high costs, nearly 75 per cent of China's 60,000-100,000 haemophiliacs were already unable to receive sufficient treatment before the shortage, the Southern Weekend newspaper said.
Many patients were now ''lending'' factor 8 they had to those in emergency need through mutual-help groups and the Internet, the newspaper said.
Blood transfusion is still a major channel for HIV-AIDS transmission in China, and infections from blood-based drugs made with tainted plasma are reported sporadically by local media.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers in the central province of Henan were infected in the 1990s through schemes in which people sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run health clinics, making the province the centre of China's AIDS epidemic.
A cluster of HIV infections was also reported in recent years among haemophiliacs who were administered factor 8 in the 1990s made by a Shanghai company with tainted plasma.
REUTERS SKB KP1031