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      The Michael Young Prize Winners 2009 - Tackling the blood trade

      by Helen Pickles, freelance journalist
      Contaminated blood supplies in the 1970s and 80s led to the deaths of nearly 2,000 haemophiliacs in the UK alone. Helen Pickles reports on how research by Michael Young Prize winner Carol Grayson revealed inadequate procedures and a profit-obsessed blood trade.

      When Carol Grayson saw the advertisement in her local Newcastle evening paper in 2005 - 'MA in Gender, Culture and Development' - her world flipped. "I felt it could have been designed for me," she recalls. "I saw it as a sign."

      Her husband, Peter Longstaff, a haemophiliac, had died a few months earlier from hepatitis C after being infected from contaminated NHS blood supplies. Carol, exhausted after 15 years of caring for her husband and campaigning on behalf of haemophiliacs, could not face returning to a conventional job. The MA, at the University of Sunderland, gave her the opportunity to study issues in which she had always been interested - politics, race, marginalized groups - plus carry out more research into the international blood trade. Her final dissertation, which examined the ethics and politics of the global blood trade and its impact on the UK haemophilia community, caused uncomfortable reading in government circles. The importance of Carol Grayson's research has been recognised in her winning the Michael Young Prize.

      During the 1970s and 1980s, the NHS imported blood products, typically from US plasma companies, to top-up shortfalls in domestic supplies. Some of the original blood came from donors who were paid for their contributions, such as prisoners; sometimes with the use of unsafe equipment. Safeguards to protect against infectious diseases were absent or inadequate and warnings ignored - resulting in over 4,500 UK haemophiliacs becoming infected with hepatitis C and around 1,200 also infected with HIV. Nearly 2,000 died.

      Carol had begun researching while her husband was still alive why such potentially dangerous practices were allowed, but it was a 2006 UK Department of Health report that provided the focus for her dissertation. "It looked at blood policy from the early 70s to the early 90s, a key time for haemophiliacs. I realised it was a whitewash. It was more interesting for what it left out," she says.

      Safeguards to protect against infectious diseases were absent or inadequate and warnings ignored

      Her research sought to challenge the government line that haemophiliacs became infected with HIV and hepatitis C through an 'unavoidable accident'. Among her findings were allegedly destroyed documents proving that contamination risks were known; inadequate blood provision policies; and an international commercial blood trade putting profit above safety. She also looked at how the identity of the haemophiliac community had changed throughout the period, to a more proactive approach.

      Carol's research provided evidence for the Archer Inquiry on NHS Supplied Contaminated Blood and Blood Products, whose recommendations included substantially increasing compensation to affected UK haemophiliacs. It has also become the basis of several BBC2 Newsnight reports and press articles, and has been issued on CD for anyone to access. "I heard that the average PhD is read by five or six people," says Carol. "I was horrified! I want this to reach as many people as possible and have them benefit from my work."

      Apart from the financial help, the chief benefit of winning the Michael Young Prize, says Carol, is the credibility it has given her. "It's easy to dismiss me as a weeping widow - which I am. But I'm also a researcher and an academic. It's opened doors." She has been invited to join or contribute to advisory groups, including the Coalition on Blood Safety and SaBTO (Department of Health advisory committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs); she is taken seriously by the medical profession; and she has been commissioned to write on blood issues for leading national publications. Provided she can get further funding, Carol intends to continue her research and campaigning work into the global blood supply 'business' - with the ultimate aim of making it 100 per cent non-remunerated.