European Union Calls for Libya To Drop Charges Against Health Care Workers Who Allegedly Infected Children With HIV
The European Union has called on Libya to end the trial of six Bulgarian health care workers charged with deliberately infecting several hundred children with HIV through contaminated blood products, according to the Bulgarian Ambassador to Libya Zdravko Velev, the Bulgarian News Network reports (Bulgarian News Network, 1/13) More than 400 children in Libya contracted HIV in 1997 and 1998 in what some Libyan groups say was a conspiracy to experiment with HIV on children. However, some European governments and human rights groups say that the Libyan Health Ministry failed to screen blood products adequately and allowed poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital, where the children were infected. The health care workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999. A civil prosecutor in September 2003 requested about $10 million in compensation for the families of each HIV-positive child. The trial was suspended in December 2003 to await an opinion by a group of Libyan doctors (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/12). Velev said in an interview with Bulgarian state radio that the British and Dutch ambassadors delivered a note to Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanim requesting that the charges be dropped because they are "unsubstantiated" and that the workers be released, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 1/13).
The health care workers have pleaded not guilty, and international HIV/AIDS experts Dr. Luc Montagnier and Vittorio Collizzi have testified that the outbreak stemmed from poor infection control practices at the hospital in 1997 -- more than one year before the health care workers began working there, the Bulgarian News Network reports. However, a court-appointed commission comprised of Libyan doctors disagreed with Montagnier and Collizzi, claiming instead that the Bulgarians intentionally infected the children through blood transfusions. The court is scheduled to hold another hearing in the case on Jan. 26, according to the Bulgarian News Network (Bulgarian News Network, 1/13). Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has promised Western diplomats that he will intervene, but his decision is expected to have political implications. If he accepts the European opinion that the epidemic was caused by Libya's health system, he likely will win the support of Europe but will be forced to accept blame in his home country, a move that could cost more than $4 billion if Libya provides the requested compensation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/12).