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Iraqi Red Crescent Society Asks for $238 Million In Damages From Sanofi, Baxter Over HIV-Infected Blood Products

March 28, 2007

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society on behalf of a group of HIV-positive Iraqis is asking for $238 million in damages from pharmaceutical companies Sanofi-Aventis and Baxter in a lawsuit that claims the people contracted the virus through contaminated blood the companies' subsidiaries sold to Iraq in the 1980s to treat children with hemophilia, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (Abboud, AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/26). The civil suit was filed in September 2006 by three groups in Iraq -- including about 35 Iraqis who allegedly contracted HIV through the contaminated blood products -- against the country's Ministry of Health, Sanofi and Baxter. The suit was filed by the 35 Iraqis, family members of others who contracted the virus and have since died, and IRCS. According to IRCS Director Said Hakki, people contracted HIV from blood products sold by France-based Institut Merieux and Austria-based Immuno AG to Iraq from 1982 through 1986. Former Iraq President Saddam Hussein's government responded to these cases by quarantining hemophiliacs and their families in hospitals. The lawsuit says that Merieux, which was taken over by Sanofi, and Immuno, which was taken over by Baxter, sold blood they suspected was contaminated and that the health ministry was negligent by allowing the blood to be given to patients. According to Hakki, Sanofi-Aventis officials in November 2005 offered to pay between $5,000 and $25,000 to Iraqis who contracted HIV through Merieux's products or to their families, but the Iraqis rejected the offer (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5/06). The suit is seeking $238 million in damages from the pharmaceutical companies, or $1 million for each HIV-positive person involved in the suit, according to Hakki. Sanofi-Aventis declined to comment on the case, and a Baxter spokesperson could not confirm that the company had received a copy of the suit. A Baghdad court on April 8 is scheduled to begin hearing the case, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. According to IRCS, 199 Iraqis to date have died of AIDS-related causes, while an additional 39 people are living with HIV, after allegedly contracting the virus through the contaminated blood products. The Iraqi health ministry has denied the HIV outbreak, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/26).

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