Orissa again in danger: Thalassemia and other serious patients in quagmire of TTIs

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Ever since in a village of my area an unfortunate father told me of how his 3 year old son got severe HIV infection by taking blood from a Red Cross Blood Bank at Bhubaneswar, I have focused on the urgent necessity of safe blood in about fifty articles in these pages. I have brought to public notice how the government was sleeping over the most benevolent judgment of Orissa High Court in W.P.( C ) 13441/2009 delivered on 28 July 2011, that directed the State Government of Orissa to immediately equip all the Blood Banks with NAT PCR facilities, known the world over as the only system to catch the HIV viruses in their window period. My reports had prompted the Opposition Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan (as he then was) to move an adjournment motion in the Orissa Assembly on 1st September 2012 that elicited an assurance from the Health Minister for installation of the facility in all Blood Banks, to begin initially with the four major Blood Banks – the ones attached to each of the three Government Medical College Hospitals and the Capital Hospital. But sadly, the government in the Health department did not act as diligently as was needed.

I have reasons to apprehend that the prospects of installation of imported machines ignited hunger for payola in individual mandarins in the health department. If a social audit could be allowed to locate as to where and how the installation of NAT was delayed by at least for four years, the villain or villains for whom our people suffered could come to light. I have earlier shown, the delay was probably creating at least two new cases of HIV infection in Orissa every day, with the number of transfusions of blood units supplied without NAT screening.

However, when ultimately ‘Young Orissa’, a body of young activists led by Debi Prasad Nayak threatened the government to sue it for contributing to spread of HIV by its deliberate disobedience to the High Court mandate of 2011, the State Government issued a tender notice for the system under terms and conditions stipulated therein and with a team of experts deciding on technical suitability of one company over the other out of total two participants, the suitable system provider ‘Rouche Diagnostics India Pvt Ltd’ was asked to install its machines. Found unsuitable by the experts in technical bid, the financial bid of the other participant ‘Homogenomics Pvt Ltd’ was not opened, as that was the stipulation in the tender notice.

The later company challenged the decision of the government in the High Court of Orissa on grounds shown in its writ application registered as W.P.( C ) No.18679 of 2015. It was heard much after the machines of ‘Rouche Diagnostics India Pvt Ltd’ were installed and operational.

While deciding the dispute the Hon’ble Court has made it clear, “Since the Court is not a technical authority to evaluate the same, this Court expresses no opinion with regard to the assessment made by the technical committee”. But, as the writ petitioner had claimed that its version was the latest; and yet the Court was neither to hear on the suitability of the machines nor to compare the systems of both the parties to determine which of them was better, it could not be determined whether or not the system already installed is better than the petitioner’s “latest” system. However, the Court has ordered the government that it should “reconsider the tender documents submitted” by both the participants “in conformity with the conditions stipulated in the tender documents and the entire exercise shall be completed as expeditiously as possible, but not later than October, 2016”.

Thus saying, the Court has also said that the functioning NAT facility in the four major Blood Banks shall remain functional till October 31 only. The government has such lawyers that this decision of the Court, delivered on 18 August 2016 could not reach the Health department for more than two months and as far as my information goes the law department is at the moment examining whether or not the decision should be challenged in the Supreme Court of India. I am afraid; the High Court order is not going to be honored by October 31 in matter of “reconsideration” of bids of both the participants.

If the government goes to the Supreme Court, there shall be a corporate war in matter of law and nobody knows or can predict what time shall it consume. Similarly, if the government decides to honor the High Court Order, with no time left to constitute and convey a fresh technical committee, the issue is not easy for the government to solve before end of this month. On the other hand, one of the two parties is bound to be affected by whatever decision the State Government takes. Naturally, the matter shall go to the High Court again and eventually to the Supreme Court. The time that would ultimately consume is unfathomable.

What shall happen to the several thousands of Thalassemia patients that had started receiving safe blood and to innumerable other serious patients who could have received safe blood screened by NAT in the four major Blood Banks of Orissa? It seems the government, both political and executive, the lawyers that represent the government, the judiciary that has failed to foresee the debacle the ban on functioning of the NAT system beyond this month would cause to the patients, particularly the Thalassemia patients, do not bother about the human rights to safe blood defined by Orissa High Court in W.P.(C) 13441/2009.

For appreciation of the position, it needs be stated that the NAT machines were installed by ‘Rouche Diagnostics India Pvt. Ltd’ in the four major Blood Banks noted supra in June 2016. Within this period around 150 infected samples have been detected by NAT. This means, sans the NAT screening, at least 150 new fatal cases of TTIs could have been created since June, most of who could have become the Thalassemia patients thriving on frequent transfusions and patients needing blood utmost urgently on surgical tables.

We strongly appeal to the legal fraternity of Orissa to rise to the occasion and bring this entire matter to the notice of the Hon’ble High Court of Orissa with a request to lift the ban on the functioning of NAT with effect from October 31 and allow the screening to continue till the corporate war is finally closed.

Will any responsible lawyer please wake up?

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