According to Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper and the African country’s health minister, five patients at two major hospitals were accidentally exposed to syphilis last week after receiving blood infected with the virus that causes the STI.
The Southern African country's government confirmed the shocking cases at an impromptu press conference held in the nation’s capital Gaborone on Thursday 17 March 2016. At the conference, health minister Dorcas Makgatho said eight blood units were distributed from the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) to the Princess Marina and Scottish Livingstone Memorial Hospitals in Gaborone and Molepolole respectively two weeks ago.
The minister blamed the detection faults on a newly introduced blood capture technology system, stating: “Somehow during the verification of the system, we detected that eight units of blood containing the Treponema pallidum virus – that can cause syphilis – were dispatched to the two health facilities. Unfortunately five units had already been sent to the facilities and transfused – four pints at Princess Marina Hospital and one at the Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole.”
She then went on to say that the health ministry takes full responsibility for errors and the plan to prevent more mistakes in the future: “We have tracked the clients and we are already talking to them, counselling them and preparing them for treatment. We will provide all possible medical assistance within our ability. We are putting up structures and mechanisms so that this does not happen again."
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None of the affected patients have shown any signs of developing syphilis, according to Makgatho. Referring the details of the cases, she added: “The samples of the eight pints were confirmed negative for HIV 172, hepatitis B & C, but were reactive for Treponema pallidum only at the time of screening. Treponema pallidum can only survive under cold temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius for three to five days. The blood units issued stayed in the cold room for a minimum of eight days, which significantly lowers chances that the disease could have been transmitted to the patients,” she said.
The faulty blood screening technology was reportedly recently acquired by the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) from a South African company according to ENCA.