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12-year-old Girl Receives HIV via Blood Transplant in Saudi Arabia

Update Date: Feb 20, 2013 12:27 PM EST
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12-year-old Reham al-Hakami sought treatment from the Jazan Public Hospital in her local village for sickle cell anemia and she left the hospital with HIV-tainted blood. The severity of this case has led to the firing of seven high level officials while people are still wondering how a huge mistake like this could have happened.

"There could be criminal charges filed if the intent of giving the girl the virus is proven, but until then there are bodies within the justice system in Saudi Arabia that can rule on medical mistakes," a former judge Mohammed al-Dehaim commented in the GlobalPost.

al-Hakami went to her local hospital for a blood transfusion and after a few hours, she and her family were bombarded with a group of hospital staff at their front steps informing them that the blood from the transfusion was HIV positive. al-Hakami was consequently airlifted to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital at the country's capital in Riyadh. The health ministry is looking into investigating al-Hakami's case after widespread public anger engulfed the nation. A recent five second video of al-Hakami surfaced on YouTube in which she asks for people to pray for her.

People are also calling for the resignation of Abdullah al-Rabiah, the country's health minister. This amount of anger and action surrounding this case is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia, a county more akin to ignoring mistakes and avoiding controversial talks about HIV and AIDS. Due to public backlash and anger over the incident, the ministry issued a statement apologizing to the girl and her family, and described the situation as a "critical error." The ministry also promises to find ways to compensate the young victim through medical and monetary means.

Abdullah al-Rabiah also visited al-Hakami at the hospital, bringing with him an iPad as a gift. This action also drew a lot of criticism because members of the public viewed the gift as a form of compensation, fearing that the government will not actually provide care for the girl. The preacher Adel Al-Kalabani tweeted in Arabic: "this should go into the Guinness Book (of world records) as the cheapest compensation ever," and the statement was retweeted roughly 4,000 times.

In the meantime, al-Hakami's family is planning on suing the health ministry.

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