Four Albanian children infected by HIV-positive donors

Four Albanian children suffering from a genetic blood disease tested positive for HIV after receiving blood transfusions from seven donors infected with the virus that causes AIDS, health officials reported Monday. Four Albanian blood donors this year and three in 2004 have tested positive for HIV, and could have been the source of infection among the four children with thalassemia, who receive transfusions once every three weeks, according to Irena Qendro, head of blood donation department. About 100,000 babies worldwide are born each year with severe forms of thalassemia, a group of genetic blood disorders in which the red blood cells don't work properly. It is most common among people of Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African ancestry. Treatment involves frequent blood transfusions. Albania, a tiny Balkan country of 3.1 million, has some 500 thalassemic children whose blood was being checked in Cyprus. The test for 195 of them, completed in June but made known only by the new Health Minister Maksim Cikuli last week, showed four of them were AIDS positive. The test for 300 others will be completed by Christmas time, said Cypriot medical officials who would conduct the tests. Albania registered 119 registered HIV cases in 1993-2003, of which 37 were AIDS cases. Twenty-three AIDS patients have died in that time period, the AP reports.

Actual infection rates, however, could be much higher, health officials said.

Albania's post-communist health system is stretched financially and lacking resources to provide even basic care in some instances. AM

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