Saudi girl cleared of HIV given warm welcome
A 12-year-old Saudi girl who was administered HIV-infected blood in a botched transfusion earlier this year has been given an outstandingly warm welcome by jubilant crowds in the city of Jizan.
Reham Hakami, whose case gripped the nation and drew unprecedented support, was allowed to leave King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in the capital Riyadh after local and international laboratory tests and HIV experts concluded she did not carry the virus, local news site Sabq reported.
Government and health officials as well as relatives, friends and local residents welcomed Reham home amid a deluge of good wishes and an improvised display of fireworks. She had spent seven months at the hospital.
“I would like to thank all those who stood by me, particularly my family and my relatives,” she said. “I am grateful to all of you and I do pray to the Almighty to reward you for your words and deeds. My joy today is so immense.”
Reham’s case in February sparked outrage in Saudi Arabia after it came to light that she was given contaminated blood during a blood transfusion at Jizan’s General Hospital on February 14.
The girl, raised in poverty and lack of attention, did not seem in the beginning to understand what was happening to her or around her family.
“I am used to going every year with my father and mother to the General Hospital in Jizan for a blood transfusion,” Reham who suffers from sickle-cell anaemia said when her case hit the nation.
“Last week, I went as usual to the hospital and at around 11pm, a nurse inserted a needle into my left hand for the blood transfusion. The nurse told me to sleep until it was over,” Reham, a sixth grader at a local school, said.
A doctor from the emergency department checked her before she was allowed to leave the hospital, she added.
“However, after two days, I felt excruciating pain. It was different from the pain I had felt in the past. However, we could not go to hospital because my father did not have a car. At around midnight, while I was sleeping, my uncle woke me up and took me to an ambulance in our neighbourhood and they drove me to the King Fahd Central Hospital. I was very scared,” she said.
“There were several doctors there for me and as my uncle and I waited, my mother, father and aunt joined us. I was taken into a room and only my mum was allowed to stay with me,” she said.
A doctor gave her medicine and painkillers at around 7am.
As details of the case emerged, activists, focus groups and columnists called for prompt action to extend all required assistance to the young girl, while demanding stringent measures against those found guilty of negligence.
The sixth grader was eventually taken to Riyadh.
The health ministry offered its apologies to Reham and her family and pledged to provide her with the best care possible.
Four days after the incident, the ministry said that it sacked the laboratory technician at the hospital where the HIV-infected blood was given and that it revoked the technician’s licence.
The Jizan General Hospital manager, medical head, laboratory head and blood bank head were also sacked following the botched blood transfusion that has sparked wide condemnation and deep outrage in the Saudi kingdom.
Fines of 10,000 Saudi riyals (Dh9,789) were also imposed on the blood bank head and on the Aids programme coordinator.