Anti-D prophylaxis in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its aftermath

Rhesus type incompatibility between a mother and an infant has grave consequences for the child. Because of this, an anti-D-immunoglobulin prophylaxis has been developed and since late 1960s successfully established worldwide. In summer 1978, in Halle (Salle) in the GDR, it has been discovered that a contaminated blood source had been used for the production of three consignments of the anti-D prophylaxis. The blood originated from individuals infected with hepatitis (HCV), or more precisely, with a nonA-nonB-hepatitis (the first description of HCV occurred not until 1988). Eventually, the infection spread through use of contaminated scrubbing liquid.

Every woman with Rh-negative factor received one hour after the birth of her child a shot with an anti-D prophylaxis. Six weeks after, first women became ill. At the behest of the regional health authorities, the women have been compulsory hospitalized. In closed hospital wards, the women were compelled to secrecy about the occurred situation.

This intentional pharmaceutical criminal offence has been already prosecuted in the GDR. In 1979, a secret trial took place. However, the affected individuals and the public were not informed about the incident. The women involved could not appear before the judges as joint plaintiffs. At the end, a sentence has been passed. It can be assumed that the consignments deliberately had not been discarded, although it was clear that the prophylaxis was contaminated. The motivation for this situation was lacking willingness to spend foreign currency for acquisition of the prophylaxis abroad.

Some women that developed chronic hepatitis required immediate medical attention. Only few of them received a financial support in a timely manner.

The project pursues several medico-historical and medico-ethical research questions that occur against this backdrop.

Project lead: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Florian Steger


Duration: 2015–2016

Anti-D-Prophylaxe in der DDR 1978 und ihre Folgen