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France

Iraqi man seeks compensation for deadly HIV-infected blood transfusions from France

media A worker in a laboratory of Sanofi, which now operates part of the Institut Mérieux. Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

Khalid al-Jabor, a 58-year-old retired civil servant, has been seeking compensation for his and 270 other families for deaths related to the use of infected blood imported by a French biological institute in the early 1980s.

Al-Jabor's five sons, all of them hemophiliacs requiring regular blood transfusions, died between 1983 and 1996 after tainted blood imported to Iraq by France's Insitut Mérieux left them infected with the HIV virus.

"I think human rights, liberties and democracy are imaginary principles, they don't really exist", he said on a recent visit to Paris, after Sanofi Pasteur, which now owns the relevant department of the Institut Mérieux, agreed to hear the cases in what the families' lawyer calls their "only remaining chance".

After the HIV virus was identified in 1982, scientists plead for institutions such as Mérieux to warm their blood in order to kill the virus, but the company did not comply, fearing the heating process would damage Factor VIII, a blood-clotting protein essential to the health of hemophiliacs.

Mérieux ceased exporting unheated blood in 1985, after it was discovered the heating process did not harm Factor VIII.

But it also admitting it had "reacted too slowly".

Al-Jabor describes watching his sons disappear due to complications from AIDS and being unable to speak out under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

When the regime fell in 2003, al-Jabor began seeking compensation for his family and for others who had suffered.

The families' French lawyer Géraldine Chavrier said they have launched dozens of procedures over the past decade, all of them in vain.

"Every legal action has encountered the same problem, that there is not enough proof," she said. "There are no medical records as there are in France."

Chavrier says the last chance is an agreement with Sanofi Pasteur, which has agreed to hear the families' case.

"We are open to discussion and to offering compensation," says Sanofi Pasteur spokesperson Alain Bernal, if it could be determined "the person suffering hemophilia did not have AIDS before the transition and did afterwards".

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