A medical mistake in Saudi Arabia has outraged the country and sparked debate about how a deeply conservative society deals with an uncomfortable topic.
On Feb. 12, Reham al-Hakami, a 12-year-old girl with sickle cell anemia, was mistakenly given HIV-positive blood during a transfusion at a hospital in her village of Jazan, CNN reports. After the error was discovered, Reham was sent to King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for emergency treatment.
Officials have not confirmed whether Reham has tested positive for HIV.
The Saudi Ministry of Health released a statement on Feb. 17 apologizing for this "critical error" and vowing to punish "all those proven careless and negligent" in the matter. The Ministry added that during its investigation, all blood donation at the Jazan General Hospital blood bank would be halted, and several officials connected to the blood bank and hospital in Jazan would be fired.
CNN reports that some are calling for Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah to resign as well. Reham's family has already hired a lawyer and plans to sue.
The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) reports that the hospital laboratory and blood bank did not follow proper medical procedures , according to the Saudi Gazette.
Medical Daily notes that sympathy for Reham, an "innocent victim" of HIV, could become a catalyst for change in the Arab nation.
Being openly HIV-positive can be a struggle in the conservative country, according to The New York Times, despite legislation that guarantees AIDS patients free treatment. In addition, religious leaders have even been known to refer to AIDS as the "wrath of God."
“The main problem here is not the disease itself,” Muneera al-Dahhan, a clinical counselor at King Faisal Hospital, the top AIDS treatment center in the country, told The Times. “It is the tough view of society. People see this as the result of sexual behavior that is unacceptable in our society and are unable to accept it.”
Homosexuality is technically illegal in Saudi Arabia, which observes strict interpretations of Islamic law. But gays and lesbians have nevertheless managed to carve out a thinly hidden culture within a culture, according to The Atlantic.
View a video report about Reham al-Hakami below: