By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada, still struggling with the
after-effects of a long-running scandal over tainted blood,
said on Tuesday it planned to pay a total of C$1.1 billion
($965 million) to around 5,500 people who had contracted
hepatitis C from transfusions.
The victims had been excluded from an earlier compensation
plan that paid out money to people who were infected between
1986 and 1990, the year when Canada adopted tests that better
screened blood for impurities and diseases.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives promised
in opposition they would compensate all victims, said the plan
still had to be approved by courts where people seeking
compensation have launched class action lawsuits.
“Because these victims have waited long enough for what is
due to them, our government is going to do everything in its
power to ensure that matters are moved ahead as quickly as
possible,” he told a news conference, saying he hoped the money
would be paid out early next year.
Tens of thousands of blood transfusion recipients in Canada
contracted the AIDS and hepatitis C viruses from contaminated
blood and blood products in the 1980s.
Around 3,000 have died so far and some of the money Harper
announced will go to the estates of the deceased.
Renee Daurio, who caught hepatitis C from a blood
transfusion in 1979, welcomed the promise of compensation but
said it could not erase years of suffering.
“No amount of money can bring back your health. No amount
of money will bring those lost years back,” Daurio told CBC
television, saying she took up to 50 pills a day.
Three doctors, the former head of the Canadian Red Cross
Society’s blood transfusion service and the U.S. pharmaceutical
company that provided the blood are currently on trial.
Prosecutors say the accused knew the blood could be
contaminated but continued to use it.
The charges include criminal negligence causing bodily harm
and endangering the public, which carry a maximum 10-year
prison sentence. The trial is expected to end early next year.
The earlier compensation package, brought in by the then
Liberal government in 1998, covered around 10,000 people but
would not pay those who became infected before 1986 on the
grounds that no suitable tests existed at that time.
“All should be compensated equally, because all of the
victims have endured pain and suffering,” said Harper, who was
speaking in the southern Ontario town of Cambridge. His
Conservative Party took office in February this year after more
than 12 years of Liberal rule.