Croatia probe into dialysis deaths
ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatia's Cabinet has heard evidence from police and health officials during an emergency session investigating the deaths of 23 people during kidney treatment.
The move came after Croatian government officials blamed filters made by a U.S.-based firm, Baxter International Inc. for the deaths during dialysis, The Associated Press reported.
The company denies its products are at fault and representatives have flown to the capital, Zagreb, for urgent meetings with health officials.
The tragedy involves the largest number of deaths in Croatia's recent peacetime history. It has sparked concern and anger throughout the country of 4.7 million.
The 23 patients died in a single week beginning October 8, but the alarm was only raised on Friday evening when one clinic in central Croatia reported four deaths in one day. Usually, about six dialysis patients die in a week.
An investigation by the health ministry, police and the state prosecutor's office, is still ongoing. Police seized dialysis equipment from the clinics where the deaths took place.
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said his government "doesn't want anything to be covered up... but to ascertain the truth, so that such a tragedy never happens again."
AP reported that health authorities gave no details on what made them suspect the filters were at fault, other than the fact they were used in the treatment of all the patients who died and that their investigations indicated that other factors -- such as water used in the treatment -- showed no problems.
Health Minister Ana Stavljenic-Rukavina said that after the Baxter-made filters were replaced with other brands in hospitals on Saturday, no more deaths were reported.
Even so, Stavljenic-Rukavina admitted Monday the fact that other patients, treated with the same filters in the same week, experienced no problems, was "confusing."
Most patients died during the dialysis treatment or shortly afterwards.
The filter, known as a dialyzer, is a membrane device that filters waste substances from the blood before it is returned to kidney failure patients who have suffered kidney failure.
Baxter spokeswoman, Patty O'Hayer, insisted it was "premature" to put a blame on any specific aspect of dialysis, a complex and sensitive procedure. She told AP their dialyzers were put under five-weeks of "rigorous tests" after 10 patients kidney patients died in Spain in August and no fault was ever discovered.
She also complained the company representatives were given "limited access to data" in Croatia.
In Spain, an independent investigation found no links between the Baxter equipment and the deaths, but the Spanish government said last Wednesday it was waiting for its own test results.
Pliva, a Croatian pharmaceutical firm that imports the dialyzers, said Baxter delivers them in hermetically sealed packages and they were not further checked after they arrived in the country.
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