Libyan Court Delays Verdict in Intentional HIV Transmission Case
A Libyan court on Thursday postponed the verdict in the case of six Bulgarian health care workers and a Palestinian doctor charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV through contaminated blood products, Reuters reports (Sarrar, Reuters, 4/15). Judge Fadlallah Sherif delayed the verdict announcement until May 6 because one of the five judges on the panel is ill (El-Deeb, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/15). Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi had accused the workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service to kill Libyan children in order to destabilize the country. 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 in Benghazi, where the children were infected. The health care workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/28). Nine Libyan doctors also have been charged with "not exercising sufficient control" over foreign health workers, the Bulgarian News Service reports (Todorova, Bulgarian News Service, 4/15).
Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French co-discoverer of HIV, testified that poor hygiene in the hospital led to the contamination more than a year before the accused health care workers were hired. A group of court-appointed Libyan doctors rejected his testimony, saying that the health care workers "willfully injected" the children with HIV, according to the AP/Post-Intelligencer (AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/15). However, Libyan authorities have "backed away" from claims about CIA or Israeli involvement, claiming instead that the workers were experimenting with an AIDS treatment when the children were infected (Bulgarian News Network, 4/15). A prosecutor in the case is seeking the death penalty for the health care workers, all of whom have pleaded not guilty. The Bulgarian media has predicted that if sentenced to death, Kadafi may pardon them as part of his efforts to improve relations with Europe, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/15).