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Top health officials face action over Reham case

Al-Baha Health Affairs in search of runaway HIV patient

Last updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 1:51 PM
Reham Al-Hakami receiving treatment at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. — Okaz photo

Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah is under pressure to take action against top ministry officials after the botched blood transfusion at a Jazan hospital, according to a lawyer.

Speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper, Muhammad Al-Jadlani, who is a former judge, hinted at the possibility of many heads rolling in the ministry over the case of Reham Al-Hakami, a 13-year-old girl who was given HIV-tainted blood at Jazan General Hospital.

“The ministry has taken 11 major decisions on Sunday regarding this issue, and action against some top ministry officials is also on the cards,” he said.

The ministry sacked seven senior health officials in Jazan region on Sunday.

According to Al-Jadlani, remedial measures involving the entire ministry are required to put an end to repeated incidents of medical malpractice in the country. “The mechanism for blood donation in all hospitals across the Kingdom should be rectified,” he added.

The ministry had stopped blood donations at Jazan General Hospital till proper measures are taken to ensure safety.

‘Appalling conditions’

The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) uncovered appalling information about poor compliance with proper medical procedures relating to blood donations and testing at the hospital’s laboratory and blood bank.

In a field report, the NSHR also said the staff “are not qualified and that is why this grave medical error occurred, leading to Reham contracting HIV through the botched blood transfusion.”

“What is really shocking,” the report said, “is the fact that health authorities in the region knew that the blood sample of the donor tested HIV positive. They knew that because the King Fahd Hospital in Jazan sent a letter to the hospital on Dec. 11, 2012, informing them about the HIV-tainted blood sample.

“Yet, the hospital authorities took no action regarding the letter. The same donor with HIV came again to the hospital and donated blood on Feb. 10, 2013. Again, no action was taken.”

The report concluded that the poor standards followed in blood testing and transfusion procedures are unacceptable and may lead to similar incidents.

The NSHR called upon the authorities to conduct extensive investigations into the case of Reham. It said it will protect the full rights of Reham and her family and called upon the authorities to arrest health personnel responsible for this grave negligence. The NSHR will also coordinate with pertinent bodies within the Ministry of Health to ensure that such terrible mistakes do not recur and high healthcare standards are maintained.

The NSHR has learned from Jazan health officials that the doctor misdiagnosed Reham’s case and ordered blood transfusion even though her hemoglobin level, according to the blood test, was within normal range.

The laboratory technician who conducted the blood transfusion procedure on Reham had been working for the hospital for eight months. In a phone call, he tearfully told the reporter that he did not know how this happened.

One of his relatives said the technician did not know about the HIV-tainted blood sample. He graduated from a local health academy. Most of these academies teach curricula in Arabic and administer their tests in Arabic.

In an unrelated development, the director of Health Affairs in Al-Baha, Husein Al-Ruwaili, said the health authorities are looking for a Saudi man in his 40s who tested HIV positive at Baljurashi General Hospital a month ago while donating blood to his daughter.

The hospital’s laboratory ran an HIV test on the father’s blood sample and the result was positive. The man’s daughter was in the hospital and she was in dire need for blood. Her father came to the hospital and donated blood.

Al-Ruwaili said they are still trying to locate the Saudi man and get in contact with him. The hospital called his house and asked his daughter who answered the phone to tell her father to come to the hospital immediately. The man has never showed up again at the hospital. In cases when a suspected HIV patient refuses to return to the hospital, police are asked to find him and bring him, Al-Ruwaili said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Khaled Marghalani, spokesman for the Health Ministry, said the minister’s gift of iPad to Reham was a gesture to make her happy while undergoing treatment. He was reacting to criticisms on Twitter and other social networking sites about the minister’s gift.

Reham is undergoing treatment at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC) in Riyadh at the behest of the minister.

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