Chinese authorities say they are investigating a batch of medication that is suspected to be tainted with HIV.
According to local media, the batch contains more than 12,000 doses of human immunoglobulin — intravenous treatments used to boost weakened immune systems.
China’s National Health Commission said in a statement that on Tuesday it asked medical institutions to stop using the suspect medicine, seal it and monitor any patients who might be impacted. It launched a recall of the product, which it says was produced by Shanghai Xinxing Pharmaceutical Company.
“A group of experts sent by the National Medical Products Administration has arrived in Shanghai for site inspection at the company,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. “All the related production and inspection records have been sealed.”
The South China Morning Post describes the company as a “biotech company specialising in the production and sale of blood-based medical products,” and says it is controlled by a state-owned company.
It’s not yet clear whether any patients contracted HIV from the medication. The National Health Commission said “experts believe that the risk of HIV infection in patients using the drug is very low.”
Tainted medical products aren’t a new issue in China. Historically, blood transfusions are a common way that HIV has spread in the country. And there has been a pattern of rural residents contracting HIV as they sold blood, as NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reported nearly a decade ago.
Avert, an HIV and AIDS organization, said that in the 1990s “negligent blood donation activities” cause a “dramatic increase in the spread of HIV across China.” China has taken steps to tackle the issue, the organization added, and “in 2010 the government announced that all collected blood products were screened for HIV.”
Last year, according to the BBC, Chinese authorities announced that the “number of people contracting HIV [through transfusions] has been reduced to almost zero.” Instead, most of the new cases were contracted sexually.
Still, the number of people in China known to be living with HIV is rising. The Economist recently reported that Chinese authorities say about 850,000 people are HIV positive – “almost three times the number in 2010.” However, that’s likely due to better detection and more testing options, the publication says.