During 1990-94, companies established thousands of plasma collection centers in rural areas where they bought plasma and blood from commercial donors. Government regulations at the time required testing collected blood for hepatitis B and C but not HIV. Not later than 1994, government officials became aware of problems — outbreaks of HIV in some collection villages and HIV-contaminated blood and blood products. Government from March 1995 closed all commercial plasma collection centers and required HIV testing . These response stopped the outbreak.
The first report I’ve found of this tragedy is a letter to Lancet in 1995 signed by a provincial official and a US academic. The letter reports a study supported by both the Anhui Province Health Department and the US National Institute of Health.
What followed appears to have been a back and forth struggle between government officials wanting to cover to expose the outbreak. From 2000, international newspapers and medical journals provided partial pictures of what had happened during the early 1990s, such as results from testing people in one or several villages.
There is, however, no clear picture of the extent of the disaster. How many blood and plasma sellers got HIV? Estimates range over a million. China’s Ministry of Health and UNAIDS estimated 55,000 former commercial plasma and blood donors were living with HIV in 2005. This could be considered a low estimate, lowered also by the deaths of many donors from the time they were infected during 1990-95 until 2005. Whatever the estimate — whether 55,000 or 10 or 20 times greater — the number infected by healthcare procedures is much greater than in the next largest recognized nosocomial outbreak in Romania (with an estimated 10,000 children infected during 1989-92).
1. Wu Z, Rou K, Detels R. Prevalence of HIV infection among former commercial plasma donors in rural eastern China. Health Pol Planning 2001; 16: 41-46. Abstract available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11238429 (accessed 13 February 2018).
2. Wu Z, Liu Z, Detels R. HIV-1 infection in commercial plasma donors in China [letter]. Lancet 1995; 346: 61-62.
3. Ji G, Detels R, Wu Z, et al. Correlates of HIV infection among former blood/plasma donors in rural China. AIDS 2006; 20: 585-591. Abstract available at: https://journals.lww.com/aidsonline/Abstract/2006/02280/Correlates_of_HIV_infection_among_former.12.aspx (accessed 13 February 2018).
4. 2005 update on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and response in China. Ministry of Health, People’s Republic of China, UNAIDS. 2006. Available at: http://data.unaids.org/publications/external-documents/rp_2005chinaestimation_25jan06_en.pdf (accessed 12 February 2018).