Medicine, or Health Care, as it is usually known, is considered the noblest profession along with teaching. Every day we come across some news piece or the other that informs us about new discoveries or technological breakthroughs related to health care. Sometimes, the health care sector finds a place in the news headlines for wrong reasons that are hard to believe.
Since it is about the health of the people, any such instance creates immense commotion and sensation and shakes the faith of people in the integrity, efficiency, and expertise of the medical professionals. Here we share with you a selected list of 10 such events that came to be known as ‘health care scandals’.
Disclaimer: This write up is for information purpose only and does not endorse nor depict the views and opinion either of the author or the publication.
The Silence of the UK Whistleblower
Many organizations create a dedicated section whose purpose is to keep a tab on any illegal or immoral practice in its rungs. This procedure is followed in many countries especially the developed ones. If any employee approaches them with the report of any unlawful happening in the organization then the identity of the employee is not revealed to make sure that there is no harm done to the informer.
In an unpleasant case that took place in Stafford, England where 1,000 plus patients lost their lives, one honest employee who brought to light the serious lapses concerning patient safety of United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, United Kingdom was deeply harassed by being placed under a gag order and legal action undertook by the National Health Service (NHS).
Sterilization of California Female Prisoners
Moving to America, in the state of California approximately 150 female inmates in the California correctional system were sterilized illegally between 2006 and 2010 by the physicians on contract of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
This ghastly act was carried out in The Valley State Prison for Women and the California Institution for Women in Corona. Most of the procedures were carried out without taking the signatures on the consent forms. In some cases, physicians falsified the consent forms.
MMR Vaccine Controversy
The very vaccine that is meant to protect children from deadly diseases was made to appear as extremely harmful. As a result of this nasty misinformation a lot of children developed mumps and measles and many died.
This happened following the allegations that MMR vaccine is directly connected to autism. In 1998, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a paper submitted by English surgeon Andrew Wakefield presenting evidence that measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are linked to developmental disorders. This was followed by a number of studies which completely negated the claim. But the damage was done and the ramifications of this ‘evidence’ reached as far as the United States and Japan.
The Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer investigated the story and it came out that Wakefield had tampered the evidence in his paper. The experts arrived to the final agreement that shows no link between autism and MMR vaccine.
Gurgaon Kidney Transplant Racket
A large number of poor laborers were made to do away with their kidneys either by coercion or monetary offers. An illegal kidney transplant racket was exposed in Gurgaon, India in 2008. It was believed that the recipients of these organs were wealthy individuals and foreigners.
Over a period of 10 years about 600 kidney transplants were performed, not in a medical center but a private house fitted with high-tech operating equipment. Two major hospitals were a part of the plan.
Scientific Protein Laboratories, a China based American pharmaceutical company had been manufacturing heparin that was injected to prevent formation of blood clots. Heparin is obtained from animal tissues, such as pigs’ intestines.
In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) withdrew large-scale heparin after it was discovered that the raw batches of the formula were contaminated. This step was taken following 81 deaths and reports of 785 severe injuries linked to heparin. Examinations found that the culprit was an over-sulfated derivative of chondroitin sulfate.
Over-sulfated chondroitin costs much less than genuine heparin raw material and resembles the in-vitro properties of heparin. The adulteration level was estimated to be as high as 60%. Apart from the cost factor benefits to the manufacturer, it was also said that there was a shortage of medically fit pigs in China.
Children of Thalidomide
This occurred at the time when no standard checks or tests were conducted to ascertain any particular medications’ effects on a pregnant woman and the fetus. Thalidomide was heralded as a “wonder drug” and was widely used as a tranquilizer and easing the effects of morning sickness. Manufactured by German company the Grünenthal Group, thalidomide was consumed by thousands of pregnant women from 1957 to 1962 and the consequences were horrific.
As a result of the side-effects of thalidomide, more than 10,000 children in almost 50 countries were born with defects like phocomelia, a disorder which results in abnormal arms and legs and severe impact on other parts of the body. In the UK alone, around 2,000 babies were born with birth defects and around 1,000 died inside a few months.
HIV Tainted Blood
The first ever case of AIDS like disease was reported from Los Angeles in 1981 and the work began into identifying and studying the new virus which came to be known as HIV. Up till 1985 Japan did not have any official reports about HIV even though the virus was well known.
In early 80’s, Baxter Travenol Laboratories (BTL) informed Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare about a US licensed heat-treated blood product that could kill HIV. With proposals being made to license this heat-treated blood product in Japan, the Japanese Green Cross Corporation, Japan’s chief provider of blood products strongly objected stating that it will lead to unwarranted competition and refused to discover heat-treated alternatives.
The US licensed heat-treated blood product was rejected and the Japanese Ministry of Health passed the orders to screen untreated blood products and carrying out tests on heat-treating and issuing appeal to the public to donate blood. Meanwhile, the Green Cross Corporation issued safety guarantees about the unheated blood products. A major chunk of recipients were those suffering from hemophilia. The result was terrible!
All this while an estimated 2,000 hemophilia patients had been contaminated with HIV following which top officials in Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, a top hemophilia doctor and company executives were impeached for involuntary manslaughter.
New England Compounding Center Meningitis Outbreak
In October 2012, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took the leads following the outbreak of fungal meningitis. They zeroed in on contamination of medication administered as epidural steroid injections. Massachusetts-based pharmacy, New England Compounding Center (NECC) had packaged and sold rotten drugs and sent to 75 clinics, hospitals and surgeries in 23 states.
The first symptoms were reported in August but the bizarre nature of the infection baffled the officials and no common cause was identified. By mid-January 2013, a total of 678 people had contracted the fungal disease and 44 had died. Preliminary investigations found dirty, unhygienic conditions at the NECC, including steroid solutions contaminated with fungus.
It came to light that the NECC had distributed orders of the drug not waiting for test results depending on which it was to be decided to give a go ahead or not.
Chicago Tylenol Murders
The infamous series of deaths took place in 1982 in the Chicago metropolitan area where all the victims had taken Tylenol branded acetaminophen capsules that had been spiked with potassium cyanide. A perfect case of murders by choice?
It all started on the morning of September 29, 1982 when 12 year old Mary Kellerman died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Adam Janus died in the hospital. His brother Stanley and wife Theresa died after gathering to mourn his death, having taken pills from the same bottle. Within no time, Mary McFarland, Paula Prince, and Mary Reiner also died in similar circumstances. Investigators discovered the Tylenol link prompting the authorities and the police to issue urgent warnings across Chicago neighborhoods.
While investigations were underway, a man named James William Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturers, demanding $1 million to stop the cyanide-induced murders. Johnson & Johnson distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and stopped Tylenol production and advertising.
Toxic Cough Syrup
Cough syrups have been abused as a narcotic to get a ‘high’ but this toxic cough syrup refers to a scandal involving Panama’s pharmaceutical manufacturers to make cough syrup that used diethylene glycol instead of glycerin. Diethylene glycol is a cheap substitute for glycerin commonly used in anti-freeze and brake fluid. It is nephrotoxic and can result in Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome (MODS), especially in children.
In Panama, at least 365 deaths were believed to be linked to the cough syrup. The diethylene glycol used in the cough syrups was imported from China and sold under the name TD glycerin. The name was changed to glycerin after agreement with Aduanas Javier de Gracia, a Spanish broker in filling the customs declaration in Panama.