Babies, Blood, and AIDS
RECENTLY The New York Times carried this tragic front-page report: “Romania is threatened by an unusual pediatric epidemic of AIDS, concentrated in crowded orphanages and clinics, spread by an old-fashioned practice of giving blood transfusions to newborn infants.”—February 8, 1990.
Apparently some Romanian doctors would customarily inject small amounts of blood into the umbilical cord of newborn infants in the hopes that this “micro-transfusion” would stimulate the child’s growth. The practice proved to be an appallingly efficient way to spread AIDS; a single pint of contaminated blood carries enough doses for many babies.
The World Health Organization, which sent an emergency team of doctors to Romania, estimates that 700 Romanian children have already been found to carry the AIDS virus, with an additional 50 suffering from full-blown AIDS. The head of the organization’s AIDS program told the Times that the rate of AIDS infection among these children is among the world’s highest.
Under the recently overthrown Ceausescu regime, Romania did not officially have an AIDS threat. Any news of the spread of the disease was tightly controlled as a state secret. Blood donors were not even screened for AIDS. Now that has changed. But during the year and a half before the revolution, many Romanian doctors never even thought of AIDS when they began to see more and more children with infections that just wouldn’t go away. As one of them said: “If you are told there is no such virus in Romania, why study it?”