Libyan Experts Testify That Children Were Deliberately Infected With HIV in Retrial of Accused Bulgarian, Palestinian Medical Workers
More than 400 children at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, were deliberately infected with HIV, Libyan experts said Tuesday during the retrial of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian physician, Reuters Health reports (Sarrar, Reuters Health, 8/8). The six medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at the hospital. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. The health workers say they are innocent of the charges, claiming that they were forced to confess and that they were tortured by Libyan officials during interrogations (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26). The Libyan experts on Tuesday said they stand by a 61-page report they submitted in 2003 that says the HIV transmissions resulted from a deliberate act (Reuters Health, 8/8). The report is "real, and we are honest in reporting from the files, which are available in the hospital and according to the cases which we interviewed," Othman Shabani, a Libyan expert, said (Sofia News Agency, 8/8). Ramadan Faitori, a spokesperson for a group representing the children's families, said the experts' report was "scientific and strong" (Reuters Health, 8/8). The Libyan experts also said banks containing HIV infected blood plasma and a genetically modified form of HIV were discovered at the home of Kristiana Vulcheva, one of the nurses, Sofia News Agency reports (Sofia News Agency, 8/8). Defense lawyer Othman Bizanti after the court session said, "We see this spread of AIDS as a result of malpractice at the hospital, and we have many proofs of that. It's the opposite of what the local experts said." Judge Mahmoud Haouissa, the presiding judge on the three-member tribunal of the Tripoli Criminal Court, on Tuesday refused to allow testimony from international HIV/AIDS experts. During the first trial, international experts said the outbreak began before the accused health workers arrived at the hospital (Reuters Health, 8/8).
Trial Adjourned, Protests
Haouissa on Tuesday adjourned the trial until Aug. 29 and rejected a request from the defense that the health workers be released on bail (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/8). The nurses also face additional charges -- including currency violations, illegal handling of alcoholic beverages and promiscuity. At Tuesday's session, violence erupted outside the courtroom between the police and demonstrators demanding the death penalty for the nurses (SAPA/News 24, 8/9). After attending the hearing, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Feim Chaushev said he believes the trial will be over "within the next few months." He added, "The arguments, which the defense put in, prove the Bulgarians are innocent and have nothing to do with the HIV epidemic outbreak" (Sofia News Agency, 8/9).