Effects of state’s tainted-blood scandal being examined in Britain

January 6-12, 2020

By Jay Edwards


In April of this year a two-year old pending inquiry was opened in Great Britain. Its goal, to discover how 2,400 of its citizens died in the 70s and 80s, after being given products made with contaminated blood, as treatment for different medical conditions. 


That tainted blood has been traced west, to the U.S. and Arkansas, where it originated from inmate donors at Cummins Prison, in Lincoln County, south of Pine Bluff. The UK scandal arose after nearly 4,000 people, most suffering from hemophilia, became infected with hepatitis C, which resulted from blood clotting agents named Factor 8 and Factor 9, and supplied by the National Health Service (NHS). Over 1,200 of those infected also had HIV.


Karisa Jones, of Wales, lost her husband Geraint, 12 years after he was given infected blood in 1990, after losing his leg in a forklift accident at work. The cause of his death was hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver. He was 50. The virus was passed to Mrs. Jones from her husband, and even though she is now clear, she says she lives in fear the virus will return. “I’m a totally different person because of what we’ve gone through,” she said during the hearing in Cardiff in July. “It was unreal, just a nightmare.”


Gerald Stone, age 75, was infected with hepatitis from the bad blood products. He has had hemophilia since he was a boy and believes he was infected in 1985, from a blood product called Profilnine, which was made in the U.S. Stone stated during the inquiry that his positive tests of hepatitis C were kept from him between 1990 and 1992. He said he had taken precautions to not infect his wife since 1983, when he thought he had Aids. 


A retired environmental health officer, Stone got a report in ’83 about a 20-year old hemophiliac from Cardiff who had been infected with Aids. He went directly to the hospital to see if he had received the same blood products as the younger man. “The doctor was more concerned with how I’d found out,” he said. “He would not admit it.” Sir Brian Langstaff, who leads the inquiry, told Stone he was in awe of him for coming out in public. Sir Brian’s aim is to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In his own words, the statutory UK-wide inquiry will be “independent of government and frightened of no-one in the conclusions it may draw … we don’t have the luxury of much time, because people continue to suffer and die.”


Similar contaminated blood products were purchased in Canada, from U.S. blood brokers with ties to U.S. prisons. The results were roughly 2,000 people infected with HIV and 30,000 infected with Hepatitis C. The government regulator, Health Canada, did little due diligence in checking out the safety of these blood products. Instead they relied on the claims of the Red Cross of Canada, which stated only one in a million blood donations was contaminated, a number that later proved to be made up. In the end, the Red Cross was fined $5,000 and four top officials from the Red Cross and Health Canada were charged and later acquitted. However, after attorneys for those infected got involved, class action lawsuits were filed and the governments charged ended up settling out of court, paying out an estimated $5 billion in compensation, making the Canadian tainted blood tragedy one of the worst public health disasters that country has ever faced.


When the blood supply in Canada was first discovered to have traces of contamination, Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, and the firm that was given the contract by the state to provide medical care to prisoners was Health Management Associates (HMA). At Cummins, prisoners received $7 a pint for their blood, from HMA, which they then sold to the Canadians, and others, for $50 a pint, splitting what they made with the Department of Corrections.


The blood-plasma program at Cummins was started in the 1960s, reportedly as a way for inmates, as well as the prison system, to earn some extra money. In 1972, a Pine Bluff pediatrician, Dr. Bud Henderson, formed Health Education Consultants, which became HMA in 1978 when the company entered the prison plasma business. At that time, Henderson convinced John Byus, the prison system’s medical director, that HMA needed to run both the medical and the plasma programs. Arkansas became the only state to have a private agency running its prison medical program.


In 1985, the Arkansas Board of Corrections hired the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) in Berkeley, California, to conduct an independent investigation into HMA’s practices. At the same time, Governor Clinton ordered the state police to conduct a similar investigation. The institute discovered instances in which HMA had violated its state contract in some forty areas, including poor health assessment and record keeping and the hiring of unlicensed, uncertified, and unqualified staff. In contrast, the state police investigation found only that a few HMA employees had been running a small-time gambling operation. Clinton urged a swift end to the investigation. ADC director Art Lockhart, about whom many allegations of impropriety had been raised, was not punished. Being an employee of the ADC board, he could not be fired by Clinton.


In the documentary “Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal,” Kelly Duda interviews prisoners who worked in the infirmary at Cummins during those years. They tell of the same needles being used on multiple donors, or “bleeders” as they refer to them, and of men who donated who had hepatitis and even HIV. It was a lucrative business for over a decade, until late 1982, when the FDA told drug companies, they should stop buying plasma that came from prison inmates, because of higher risk of hepatitis and HIV. That was when principals in the venture looked to Canada and other countries, where eager buyers were waiting. 


And where today, people are still suffering effects from the tainted blood. People like Liz Hooper of Great Britain, who lost her first husband, Jeremy Foyle, in 2008, as a result of the tainted blood. Then the unimaginable happened when her second husband, Paul Hooper, who she married in 2011, died in 2017 at the age of 53, also a victim of the bad blood. Liz Hooper stated at the inquiry, “My heart overflows with love for the pair of them. They are amazing men and they need their stories told, both of them.”


There are many other victims with stories similar to Hooper, and Karisa Jones, and Gerald Stone, who want to know why potential safety warnings about the products were ignored and why plans that would allow the UK to be able to supply its own blood products were scrapped. They also want to know why patient records and documents seem to have been lost or destroyed.


Sources: “Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal,” by Kelly Duda; Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture: Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal, by Guy Lancaster; “Blood Money” Salon, December 24, 1998, by Suzi Parker; The Guardian: What is the contaminated blood scandal? (April 2019)


PHOTO CAPTIONS: (Source: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism)  


1. An Arkansas prison-plasma business protected by state officials led to a scandal that almost toppled the government – of Canada. Now, more than a decade later, this old Arkansas scandal is getting new attention in Britain.


2. The prison plasma program ended in 1994, but its effects linger. Arkansas has never apologized for its role in the blood scandal nor sought to reimburse victims for their suffering.


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