HIV Infections Among Libyan Children Due to Negligence, Not Intentional, Montagnier Says in Testimony
Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French researcher who co-discovered HIV, on Wednesday testified in Libya in the trial of one Palestinian and six Bulgarian health care workers, saying that an HIV outbreak among children in a hospital there was most likely caused by poor hygiene and negligence and was not intentional, Agence France-Presse reports. The seven health care workers, including two physicians and five nurses, face the death penalty for allegedly injecting HIV-tainted blood products into 393 children in 1998. However, Montagnier said that the HIV infections in the al-Fateh hospital in the northern Libyan town of Benghazi probably began in 1997, before the workers arrived, and continued to spread after their arrival in 1998 (Agence France-Presse, 9/3). According to BBC News, 23 of the children have died of AIDS-related illnesses (BBC News, 9/4). The health workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999 on charges that they deliberately infected children with HIV through contaminated blood products. Montagnier visited the hospital in 2002 and concluded that the outbreak of HIV at the facility was likely caused by basic medical errors, such as inadequate equipment, unskilled staff and the reuse of unsterilized needles (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/6). Speaking in a Bulgarian radio interview following his testimony, Montagnier said, "This tragedy is probably due to negligence. ... This can happen not only in this hospital, but in many others, particularly pediatric hospitals, because children are more vulnerable to infection, even by very small quantities of blood." Italian AIDS researcher Vittorio Colizzi, who co-wrote with Montagnier a report on the case that they submitted to Libyan authorities in April, also testified on Wednesday. The defendants' lawyer said in a radio interview that the two doctors' testimony was "solid and convincing" and would assist the defense when it presents its arguments on Monday and Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 9/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.