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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Leukemia Doctors Accused of Negligence

Prosecutors have charged the doctors and nurses of a Far East clinic with negligence after 10 young leukemia patients died within two weeks.

The deaths at the Khabarovsk Children's Hematology Center last month shocked the residents of the city of Khabarovsk and led to speculation that doctors had secretly administered experimental drugs to the victims.

The clinic's doctors and a Health Ministry delegation that returned from Khabarovsk on Thursday ruled out any secret drug tests and said the deaths had been caused by the patients' leukemia.

However, Khabarovsk prosecutors said doctors and other healthcare workers at the clinic could have done more.

The local prosecutor's office said it has completed a criminal investigation into the deaths and sent charges of negligence to court. If found guilty, the clinic personnel face up to five years' imprisonment.

"The doctors could have done something to prevent the children's deaths," Nikolai Tretyak, the region's deputy prosecutor and chief investigator in the leukemia case, said Friday by telephone from Khabarovsk.

The deaths started on July 7 when the 2-year-old daughter of one of the clinic's doctors died. Nine more patients, aged 2 to 15, died within the next 10 days. The clinic, which accommodates 70 patients, saw 21 deaths last year.

"Their disease was the main reason for their deaths," the clinic's director, Vladimir Vitko, said by telephone from Khabarovsk.

Vitko said his conclusions have been confirmed by police autopsies.

Alexander Rumyantsev, who headed the Health Ministry team to the Far East, agreed that the children died of their ailments but said the patients had also received inadequate care.

His commission found that patients are accommodated in an unventilated, century-old building and that the clinic had a shortage of supplies for treatment.

"It is a countrywide problem," said Rumyantsev, who also heads the Children's Hematology Institute in Moscow. "Any special treatment technology will fail if there isn't sufficient material and technical means in the hospital."

He said the medications used on the deceased patients were not experimental but the same as those that have been administered to leukemia patients for years.

"They are listed in all Russian and international reference books," he said.

But not everyone is convinced that there isn't a coverup going on.

Tatyana Vladina, a journalist from the Priamurskiye Vedomosti newspaper who first wrote about the deaths, said she thought prosecutors were accusing the clinic's workers of wrongdoing to protect the Khabarovsk health department, which is responsible for the upkeep of the region's clinics.

"Prosecutors have summoned the clinic's personnel and asked them who gave information [about the deaths] to journalists. I have already received several very unpleasant calls from clinic staffers," she said.

The local health department official in charge of an investigation into the deaths refused to comment.

Rumyantsev said the Khabarovsk administration has agreed to move the clinic's patients into new premises with private rooms and good ventilation by the end of the year.