European Commission To Provide $1.2M to Libya for HIV/AIDS Training, Care in Benghazi
The European Commission on Wednesday announced it will provide approximately $1.2 million to Libya to fight HIV/AIDS in Benghazi, according to the Iranian Information Agency, Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency, 7/13). The funds will help pay for European doctors and technicians to live in Benghazi for the next six months and supervise medical care, organize HIV/AIDS-related hospital departments and provide training to Libyan health care workers. The technical assistance will include advice on patient treatment, safe blood transfusion systems, lab analysis, hospital management, and the "social reintegration" of HIV-positive people and their families into Libyan society, according to an E.C. release. Libyan medical staff also will be trained in Europe, and the funding will come from E.C.'s Rapid Reaction Mechanism (E.C. release, 7/12).
The donation comes after E.C. Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner in May held talks with Libyan officials to discuss the case of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who have been detained in Libya since 1999 and have been sentenced to death for allegedly infecting about 400 children with HIV in Benghazi. The health care workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming they were forced to confess while being tortured, but a Libyan court last month acquitted nine police officers and a physician who had been charged with torturing them. The Libyan Supreme Court in March opened a hearing on the case of the health care workers, who in May 2004 were sentenced by a lower court to death by firing squad, but the case has been postponed until Nov. 15. The workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. Many HIV/AIDS experts say that the children likely were infected because of the Libyan Health Ministry's failure to screen blood products adequately and poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the children were being treated. The Libyan government previously has said it would free the nurses if the Bulgarian government paid compensation equal to the amount Libya paid to relatives of the victims of the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which reportedly was carried out by Libyan secret service agents. Bulgaria so far has declined to pay compensation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/9). Ferrero-Waldner said that when she was in Libya, she was "struck by the suffering but also by the courage of the children with HIV/AIDS." She added, "Today we have proven that we not only have deep sympathy for these children but that we are committed to improving their situation" (E.C. release, 7/12).