E.U. Officials Call for Release of Bulgarian Nurses Sentenced to Death in Libyan HIV Infection Case
E.U. officials on Wednesday called on Libya to "immediately release" five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting children with HIV, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 3/9). A five-judge panel of a Libyan court in May 2004 sentenced to death by firing squad the six health workers, who have been detained in the country since 1999 after being accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV through contaminated blood products. The health workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi accused the health 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, Libya, where the children were infected. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham in December 2004 said that the government might reconsider the death sentences of the health workers if the children's families were compensated by Bulgaria. Othmane al-Bizanthi, a Libyan attorney representing the nurses, said each of his clients is seeking $716,807 in compensation for their alleged torture. In January, a team of French lawyers from Lawyers Without Borders agreed to travel to Libya to represent the five Bulgarian nurses, as well as help with the civil case against the Libyan guards who the nurses say tortured them (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/25). Nicolas Schmit, a Luxembourg immigration minister, said the European Union now is "waiting for a gesture" from Libya. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who was visiting the European Parliament, said there are "no indications" that the six health workers would be released from Libya "any time soon," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 3/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.