One of the sadder stories coming out of Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor didn’t get much press in the US: The story of a lucrative blood collection program in Arkansas jails that resulted in tainted blood and plasma that killed people.

After all, Monica was so much more interesting than trying to prove the links between good old boys covering up for one another that led to so many people dying overseas and in Canada.
A Salon article (the source of much of this story) explains it this way:

To date, the scandal has gotten almost no media attention in the United States. While reporters are riveted by the Monica Lewinsky mess, they’ve ignored a real Clinton scandal, maybe because it involves two groups no one cares much about — people who aren’t Americans, and prisoners.

Today’s news says that the Canadian courts have dismissed charges against doctors in charge of the Red Cross and a pharmacutical company involved in the case.

The plaintiffs in the case are furious:

John Plater of the Canadian Hemophilia Society could barely contain his bewilderment at the verdict….”If you, on the one hand, have a study that says there’s a problem, and on the other hand have a study that says maybe there isn’t a problem, any reasonable person takes the product off the market. They didn’t. People were infected, and people died. How that could be considered reasonable behaviour is beyond us.”

James Kreppner, a lawyer who contacted both HIV and hepatitis C from tainted blood, shared Plater’s incredulity.

The Canadian blood scandal was indeed huge:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Canada’s blood system infected approximately 1200 people with the HIV virus and another 12 000 people with hepatitis C. Many of the victims were hemophiliacs and people who had received blood during routine operations. At that time, we had less knowledge than we do now about these viruses and many of those who had been infected did not know they had received contaminated blood. Some people unknowingly passed on the viruses to their spouses and family members. As a result, by the 1990s it was estimated that the number of infected people had increased substantially and exponentially. The staggering number of victims, almost 3000 deaths to date, illustrated that the blood system had failed the very people it was supposed to protect. In response, many people began calling for a judicial inquiry into Canada’s blood system.

A medical note here.
The reason for the disease being so widespread is that the collected blood was separated into cells and plasma. Cells have to be used quickly, but plama (the liquid part of the blood) is often “pooled” with plasma from other people’s blood, and then frozen and given to replace fluids, or processed to separate various parts of the protein in the plasma. One protein is the Factor VIII that we give to Hemophiliacs. The reason that so many patients with hemophilia developed HIV was that the Factor VIII would be extracted from many different donotrs.
So where does Bill Clinton come into all of this?
It turns out that a lot of the tainted blood that caused a hepatitis C epidemic came from Arkansas prison, where prisoners were paid to donate blood. The doctor running the scam set up a company, and when health warnings in the early 1980’s suggested not to use plasma from high risk patients, (prison populations have a high rate of drug related HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infections), the program continued.
Of course, they started to run into problems in trying to sell the blood in the US, so the doctors running the company merely searched around and sold it to Pharmaceutical companies who sold the blood products to other countries….when they lost several more contracts due to safety issues, the Arkansas company found one company that would buy the plasma. Indeed, the Arkansas plasma program was not shut down until the early 1990’s.
Salon’s article from the 1990’s is HERE.
The whole point is that these “experts” whined that they didn’t know about the dangers of using such blood. Nonsense.

As far back as the 1960’s when I was in medical school we were aware that Hepatitis B was higher in blood from high risk populations, and the city shut down the local blood banks that bought blood on skid row from drunks and other down and outers.

But once HIV epidemic started in the early 1980’s, and it was recognized that such blood might be contaminated, there were warnings and prohibitions against buying blood from prisons or paid donors, and all donors had to be carefully screened for medical problems (history of hepatitis) or behavior that are statistically associated with hepatitis B. (Medical note: Hepatitis B and HIV are both spread via blood and body fluids, so in the days before HIV screening was available, the Hepatitis B test was a marker for high risk of HIV).

Why did these Arkansas doctors keep up the program? Well, they paid the prisoners 7 dollars and then sold the blood for 50 dollars. But they rationalized their program this way: Our program saves lives. HIV is rare in the midwest, so they rationalized that the guidelines didn’t refer to them.
But Hepatitis C is common in the midwest among drug users, and poor screening resulted in prisoners with known Hepatitis B to donate blood…and a lot of the blood ended up in Canada.

Henderson would later tell police investigators, “Historically, this [was] the worse possible time to [sell plasma]. I called all over the world and finally got one group in Canada who would take the contract.” That group was Continental Pharma Cryosan Ltd., the biggest blood broker in Canada.

The reason that the program continued as long as it did was because of the culture of corruption: a small group of good old boys in Arkansas covered for each other .This is where the Bill Clinton connection comes in. It’s cronyism and coverup and kickbacks, and the Salon article has all the details (I’m a doctor, not a political reporter) for those who want to know names and links.
Of course, one reason that it didn’t get much coverage is that those ignoring the public health implications were “good guys” like the American Red Cross and many blood banks who were slow in grasping the implications of how disease might spread via blood and blood products.

The CBC has the time line HERE.
The Kever report in detail is HERE.
The book Blood Trail also relates the sad story.

Unless the Rose Law firm was involved,  the story has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
However, it is just one more reminder of how the press ignored the climate of corruption in Arkansas in 1992 and enabled a charming rogue like Bill Clinton to become president.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at Hey Doc Xanga blog. 
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