A MEDICAL Journal of Australia article in June, 1983 sounded a warning that makes shattering reading today for thousands of Australians.
It was in response to American news about a devastating infection that we now know as AIDS. The article appeared just days after the Australian Red Cross said the risk in this country was "greatly reduced" because of exclusive use of voluntary blood donors.
The Medical Journal author observed that "It is now recommended that individuals at risk (of carrying AIDS) should not donate blood, while the risk to persons with haemophilia can probably be lowered" by a "formidable exercise" of replacing pooled blood products.
But only four months later the National Health and Medical Research Council issued public advice that "There is no evidence that blood products in Australia are at risk of transmitting AIDS, following precautions already taken by the Australian Red Cross Society."
By 1992 nearly 20 per cent of Australia's more than 1500 haemophiliacs had contracted HIV, the precursor to AIDS, and 55 had already died. By 1992 Australian blood services had been screening donations for another infectious agent, hepatitis C, for two years, after concerns about the number of haemophiliacs and people receiving blood tranfusions who contracted the disease.
Since the 1990s Australian victims of the contaminated blood scandal have been calling for a judicial inquiry with the power to subpoena documents and compel people to give evidence about how so many Australians were infected with contaminated blood, and the poor response once that was known.
At the same time thousands of Australians like Neville and Pat Hastedt of Kurri Kurri, Sue Bell in Victoria, Alan Wilson on the NSW south coast and Lake Macquarie's Charles MacKenzie have had to live with the legacy of contaminated blood.
It is true that the UK inquiry will have a particular focus on contaminated American-imported blood products given to haemophiliacs and blood transfusion recipients, which is an issue that does not apply here. But there are many unanswered questions about what was known about contaminated products, what might have been done to protect people, and what they were told about the blood they received.