The Red Cross in Canada has pleaded guilty to distributing contaminated blood supplies which infected thousands of Canadians with HIV and Hepatitis C *.
More than 3,000 people have died since getting the tainted blood in the 1980s.
The blood scandal is widely regarded as one of the worst public health disasters in Canadian history.
The organisation now faces a fine of up to C$5,000 ($4,000), but charges of criminal negligence could be dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors.
For the first time, the head of the Canadian Red Cross, Dr Pierre Duplessis, has apologised to the victims and their families.
In a video-taped message shown in court, Dr Duplessis said the Red Cross accepted responsibility for distributing harmful products to those that relied on the charity.
More than 1,000 people became infected with HIV and as many as 20,000 others contracted Hepatitis C through blood transfusions and blood products.
Many of the victims were haemophiliacs.
Hemophilia is a hereditary bleeding disorder in which it takes a long time for the blood to clot and abnormal bleeding occurs. This disease affects mostly males. Diseases in this category include:
Mike McCarthy, spokesman for the Canadian Hemophilia Society (CHS), said: “How can anyone be satisfied? Thousands of people lost their lives.
“Hundreds and hundreds of people are living with these fatal viruses today.
“There’s no great outcome here for anybody that’s gone through the tainted-blood scandal.”
John Plater, Ontario president of the CHS, said: “Finally, the Red Cross has accepted responsibility for their part in the tainted blood tragedy.
“It’s the least they can do for the sake of victims who have waited two decades for someone to be held accountable.”
In 1997, a public inquiry strongly criticised the Canadian Red Cross, which had run the country’s blood supply system for decades.
As a result, the Red Cross was stripped of this role and was replaced by a government agency.
The blood scandal also led to several lawsuits against the Red Cross.
After years of legal wrangling, the charity has decided to plead guilty to distributing the contaminated blood.
It said it would donate C$1.5m ($1.2m) towards medical research and educational scholarships.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Hepatitis C infection is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). Persons who may be at risk for hepatitis C are those who:
- Received a blood transfusion prior to July 1992
- Received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor who has hepatitis C
- Injected street drugs or shared a needle with someone who has hepatitis C
- Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
- Have had frequent workplace contact with blood (for instance, as a healthcare worker)
- Have had sex with multiple partners
- Have had sex with a person who has hepatitis C
- Shared personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors, with someone who has hepatitis C
- Were born to hepatitis C infected mother
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD