Australian victims of infected blood call for royal commission following damning results of UK investigation; As a teenager, Charles received sick blood from a heroin user.

As a Sydney schoolboy in the 1980s, Charles MacKenzie received a blood donation as part of his treatment for a rare blood disorder.

The teenager and his family had no idea that the blood came from an express who used heroin, speed and cocaine.

MacKenzie, now 50, became one of thousands of Australians infected with hepatitis C through donor blood. Others were infected with the HIV virus. Many of the victims suffered from hemophilia, a blood clotting disorder, and depended on regular blood donations.

Charles MacKenzie lived with hepatitis C as a result of a blood transfusion when he was a teenager.
Charles MacKenzie lived with hepatitis C as a result of a blood transfusion when he was a teenager. (James Alcock)

For decades, MacKenzie, who runs the advocacy group Infected Blood Australia, has fought for justice on behalf of Australians who received transfusions of sick blood between the 1970s and early 1990s.

Now him recently published findings The outcome of a comprehensive and damning investigation into infected blood donations in the UK has given MacKenzie and the dwindling number of other surviving Australian victims hope that they will finally receive recognition and compensation for their plight here.

The four-year British investigation found that the country’s public health service deliberately exposed tens of thousands of patients to deadly infections through diseased blood and blood products, and concealed the truth about the disaster for decades.

In an apology to the victims, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the inquiry’s final report, published Monday, “should shake our nation to its core.”

MacKenzie said Australia needed to hold a royal commission into its own blood contamination scandal, which mirrored almost exactly what had happened in the UK.

“This has opened up the biggest scandals that for some people have been buried for 50 years and from Australia’s point of view we are the worst in the world,” MacKenzie said.

“We need to focus on that. Nobody was worse than Australia when it came to contaminated blood.”

Charles MacKenzie was a student at St Andrew's Cathedral School when he received an infected blood transfusion.
Charles MacKenzie was a student at St Andrew’s Cathedral School when he received an infected blood transfusion. (James Alcock)

Despite publicly leading campaigns for Australian victims of contaminated blood for decades, MacKenzie only shared her personal story for the first time when she testified at the UK inquiry in 2020.

He said he felt compelled to speak out about what happened to him because he felt like “this is our last chance.”

“Before I die, and before I’m a sick man, I want to know that I gave this every chance,” MacKenzie said.

“So if it meant sacrificing my rights and my privacy, then I was happy to do this for Australia.”

MacKenzie said he only learned of his blood donor’s history when his attorney obtained documents through the discovery process in 1997.

The documents included a transcript of a retrospective interview the Australian Red Cross Blood Service conducted with the donor several years earlier.

They showed that the donor had hepatitis C, used intravenous drugs and shared needles between 1974 and 1985. The donor had also spent time in prison and a prostitute was among his previous sexual partners.

“Instead of immediately contacting all previous recipients of that man’s contaminated blood, including me, they didn’t do it. They didn’t contact anyone,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said he had seen ruined people and families die because of infected blood donations.

“We have people who have lost everything, they have lost multimillion-dollar homes,” he said.

“We have people who ran businesses who were active taxpayers and had no idea they had been infected by these treatments.

“And the next thing you know, they have AIDS or hepatitis C and they’re in public housing.”

During the investigation, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service estimated that between 3,500 and 8,000 Australians were living with hepatitis C resulting from blood transfusions, including around 1,350 haemophiliacs.

The final report of the investigation did not recommend a national compensation plan for victims, considering that it was not in their best interests.

Instead, it recommended the establishment of a body to provide targeted financial assistance to victims.

However, McKenzie said promised financial help for medical expenses never materialized.

“There were a number of recommendations to save lives, they were going to pay out-of-pocket costs… not a penny was provided,” MacKenzie said.

“They promised dental care, because many people with HIV and hepatitis C have bad teeth. Well, of course, that was not provided. I had to make a GoFundMe myself to get a tooth extracted.”

MacKenzie said the only apology offered was a qualified apology delivered at mediation as the investigation was coming to a close.

MacKenzie calls for a royal commission to investigate infected blood donations in Australia.
MacKenzie calls for a royal commission to investigate infected blood donations in Australia. (James Alcock)

An apology made on behalf of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service by Dr Brenton Wylie during the mediation meeting is mentioned in the final inquiry report.

“The Red Cross has recognized that, in the past, some blood transfusion recipients contracted the hepatitis C virus through blood transfusions,” Wylie said.

“This is a terrible event and we are sorry that this has happened.

“We regret that for some recipients, contracting hepatitis C has resulted in often debilitating physical symptoms of this disease and, in some cases, unfair discrimination. We, as individuals at ARCBS, have been distressed to hear of the particular situations of people”.

An Australian Department of Health spokesperson said the 2004 Senate inquiry committee found the most effective way to help people who contracted hepatitis C through blood donation was to improve access to services and education. of medical personnel, and support research efforts to develop treatments for hepatitis C.

The Australian Government contributed to hepatitis C solution schemes run by states and territories and provided $7 billion in subsidized access to curative direct-acting antiviral medicines for all eligible Australians with hepatitis C, through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the spokesperson said.

The Hemophilia Foundation of Australia he said on his website that while the government contributed to settlement plans for people infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood, strict eligibility criteria meant that “almost all people with bleeding disorders were excluded.”

MacKenzie said intervention and financial help for Australian victims was desperately needed.

In the United Kingdom, authorities are expected to announce total compensation to victims of around $19 billion.

Provisional payments of $400,000 to “living infected beneficiaries will be made within 90 days,” the British government has said.

Compensation systems have already been created for victims in other countriesincluding Scotland, Ireland and Canada.

MacKenzie said it was bittersweet for Australian victims to see the progress being made in the UK.

“Here in Australia, we view the Infected Blood Inquiry as if we were looking over a fence watching our British friends be released while we remain in a state of mourning, barely surviving under the exact same public health scandal,” he told the UK inquiry. as part of his testimony.

“Thousands of Australians have contracted fatal hepatitis C and HIV through transfusions of blood and blood products. What happened to victims and their families in the UK also happened to victims here.”

An Australian Red Cross Lifeblood spokesperson said: “We know the UK investigation will remind people of a similar moment that has had a lasting impact on many families in Australia and countries around the world.”

“We understand the pain it has caused and our thoughts are with those affected and their loved ones.”

Australia rolled out hepatitis C testing as soon as it became available, the spokesperson said.

“Due to the Lookback program and the time since we began testing, the majority of people who received a blood product in the risk years in Australia have been followed up or diagnosed.”