Archive for December 2006
A Libyan court has sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for knowingly infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV 1.
It began in 1990, when there was a sudden epidemic in which 426 children in a hospital in Benghazi were diagnosed with HIV. 19 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were initially detained in 1999 in an investigation to determine the cause, and subsequently 13 of them were set free.
In the initial trial, the defendants pointed out that the outbreak of the HIV virus began before they arrived, and was probably due to the severely unhygienic conditions at the hospital. In fact, Dr Luc Montagnier, the French scientist who co-discovered the HIV virus, testified that the epidemic broke out a year before the arrival of the Bulgarians. 2
But in an absurd decision, without a single shred of evidence, a court in Tripoli ruled that the accused were guilty of “deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV-contaminated blood products as part of a conspiracy by foreign intelligence to undermine Libya”, and sentenced the medics to death.
After this appalling travesty of justice, the Libyan Government went on to suggest that they would look into this verdict, only if the government was paid a compensation of 10 million euros for each of the victims, effectively holding the medics as political hostages. There was a small reprieve when the supreme court of Libya overturned the sentence for lack of evidence, and ordered a retrial.
While this saga was unfolding, scientific evidence began to emerge which strongly supported the medics. A research team from the Zoology department of Oxford University concluded that “the subtype of HIV involved began infecting patients long before March 1998, the date the prosecution claims the crime began”. 3
A few weeks ago, a group of international scientists published a report in the reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature 4. The major conclusion of the report was:
In 1998, outbreaks of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection were reported in children attending Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. Here we use molecular phylogenetic techniques to analyse new virus sequences from these outbreaks. We find that the HIV-1 and HCV strains were already circulating and prevalent in this hospital and its environs before the arrival in March 1998 of the foreign medical staff (five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor) who stand accused of transmitting the HIV strain to the children.
But yesterday, in the face of a media baying for blood, with a total disregard for independent scientific evidence, supreme stupidity and a blind zest for retribution, the court once again upheld the initial sentence of death by firing squad.
Another stab to the already bleeding ideals of fairness and justice. It seems the only hope for the medics lies in a final appeal to the supreme court.