Army doctors infect Russian officer with HIV

Russian officer was infected with hepatitis and HIV during blood transfusion

In January 2001, an officer from the Leningrad district, Vyacheslav Temnikov, got infected with hepatitis and HIV because of doctors' negligence during direct blood transfusion. It had taken the officer two years of hard efforts before criminal proceedings were instituted against the doctors according to the RF Penal Code clause #122. At that, the Defense Ministry that acted as the defendant in the case, insists that “it happened because of some particular composition of the man's organs”.

Unfortunately, no authorities connected with the accident could be reached for comments within two weeks. So, here is the whole of the event as seen by the victim of the doctors' negligence and his lawyer.

In the winter of 2001, senior lieutenant Vyacheslav Temnikov, 23, from the military unit #20017 visited doctors of the military unit and complained of having a stomachache. The doctors diagnosed appendicitis and said the man must be operated upon. As it turned out later, hospital personnel committed an error during the first operation; because of it and poor care after the operation the patient had stomach hemorrhage.  The officer lost about three liters of blood (about 60 per cent) overnight.

Next day, doctors decided to immediately do blood transfusion. Even though a blood transfusion center situated close to the military unit had enough blood of the required group, the doctors decided that must be direct blood transfusion. As Vyacheslav's lawyer Justice Colonel Vladimir Khomyakov told PRAVDA.Ru, the international law provides just for two situations when direct blood transfusion is allowed: under war conditions or in emergency. It is not clear why doctors committed one error after another, and both were fatal.

Three officers and seven private soldiers were brought from the military unit as donors for Vyacheslav, but two of the men were hepatitis C carriers and one was a HIV carrier. The officer learnt that the donors were infected just in a year when he was taken to another military hospital. Immunologists confirmed that the patient had been infected during blood transfusion in the military hospital.

The 24-year-old officer faced a terrible disaster through the doctors' negligence. However, even though his girl-friend left him, Vyacheslav's wish to live is very strong. The officer's army contract has not expired yet and the man is still enjoying his civic rights. He appealed to the Military Prosecutor's Office and to the Defense Ministry as concerning institution of proceedings because of the terrible accident in the hospital. But the Military Prosecutor's Office will not launch an investigation and admits that “hospital doctors just slightly neglected their duties”.

In 2003, the Central Military Prosecutor's Office filed a case on the clause “infecting other people with HIV through neglect of professional duties”. Experts from the Military Medical Academy confirmed that hospital doctors committed grave errors while treating the patient and determined there was deliberate negligence. Unfortunately, the results disagree with materials of the case, and the investigation is undergoing the fourth revision. Vyacheslav's lawyer will stay with the client and is even ready to appeal to the International Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.

Tocompare, US soldiers undergo HIV tests twice a year at least. HIV-infected soldiers keep on serving in the army in case special terms are created for them because of the disease. In German Bundeswehr, HIV-tests were introduced in 1988. HIV-tests are not an obligatory part of medical examination; this diagnostic is done only if soldiers give their written consent.

Today, Vyacheslav has the status of an officer able to serve in the army with certain restrictions. The whole of the world knows about everyday problems of the Russian army, the accommodation problem is the most acute one. Vyacheslav has to live in army quarters. At that, it is important for him to keep to a special regimen, hygiene and diet.

Vyacheslav inevitably meets hostility of other officers living in the quarters. Indeed, people often do not care that HIV cannot be transmitted through everyday contacts and believe that HIV-infected patients must be placed to special closed hospitals. It is true that such patients need individual living spaces. But this is impossible under the conditions of the military unit where Vyacheslav serves. What is more, the officer has not been given the legal status of an aggrieved person. 

This is incredible that some officers and soldiers in the Russian army turn out to be HIV-infected and carriers of hepatitis, but they are not aware of the fact. At that, they may become donors under war conditions and thus infect other soldiers.

Why does it happen? This situation is mostly provoked by the federal legislation. Indeed, army conscripts may be tested for HIV only if they agree themselves. These tests are obligatory only for those who enter army academies, for soldiers serving on a contractual basis and for army doctors.

What is more, there is no civil institution that can name the exact number of HIV-infected people because doctors' negligence is still a serious problem at hospitals. Drug addiction and careless sex contacts make the problem even more serious. According to various estimates, up to 500 HIV-infected servicemen are placed on the retired list every year. The number of HIV-infected army conscripts increases several times every year as well.

As of today, only a reprimand was issued as concerning people guilty of the accident. This is a universal preventive punishment for army doctors as well as for civil doctors. The Russian Criminal Code provides for punishment just in case of deliberate infection. Lawmakers fear that the accident may make a precedent and result in strong public response. Some time ago, the Defense Ministry suggested that army conscripts must undergo HIV-tests because up to 70 per cent of HIV-infected servicemen become infected before conscription. However, the federal budget appropriates no finance for diagnostics and prophylaxis of HIV-infected conscripts and officers. 
Do Russian governmental officials remember about the army when they speak about political stability and economic growth? Will the accident in the army become the rule? This is the question to which Vyacheslav expects to get an answer from the Defense Ministry and the Ministry for Health Care. Who may guarantee that nothing of the kind will ever happen to other servicemen?

On the photo: Vyacheslav Temnikov (center)

Vladimir Vysokov

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Author`s name Olga Savka