Group of International Scientists, Doctors Call for Release of Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV; Children in Italy, France for Medical Treatment
A group of international doctors and scientists on Tuesday urged Libya to release five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, saying there was insufficient evidence against them, AFP/Middle East Times reports (AFP/Middle East Times, 10/25). The six medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad in May 2004 for allegedly infecting 426 children through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. 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, 9/25). A retrial of the medical workers is expected on Oct. 31 (AFP/Middle East Times, 10/25). In a letter published in the Oct. 24 online edition of the journal Science, the group of scientists and doctors say that the charges against the nurses and doctor "requir[e] a very high degree of proof" and that the Libyan court "chose to exclude expert testimony from independent scientists and prevent access to crucial pieces of evidence." According to the group, "the most reasonable explanation is that poor infection control practices -- including the lack of sterile, disposable injecting equipment -- led to the spread" of HIV and other diseases among the children in the hospital (Ahuja et al., Science, 10/24). The scientists urge their respective governments to pressure Libya into releasing the medical workers and ensure that the children continue to receive care (AFP/Middle East Times, 10/25). Signatories of the letter include Robert Gallo, who co-discovered HIV and developed the first test for the virus; Sunil Ahuja of the University of Texas Health Science Center; and David Pauza of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland (Associated Press, 10/24).
Libyan Children in Italy, France for Treatment
Nearly 400 HIV-positive Libyan children and their families over the last month have been moved to hospitals in Rome and Florence in Italy and Montpellier, Paris, Strasbourg and Toulouse in France for medical treatment under contracts privately negotiated and paid for by the Libyan government, the New York Times reports. Nearly 150 children are in Rome, and more than 100 are receiving treatment at the Vatican-owned Ospedale Bambino Gesu, according to Guido Castelli Gattinara, the pediatrician overseeing their care. Gattinara in an e-mail said that most of the children had not received adequate medical care in the Benghazi hospital despite improvements made to the facility under a European Union program to provide training and guidance in establishing an HIV treatment center. He added that although 60% to 70% of the children are receiving antiretroviral treatment, "the goal of complete control of HIV replication had been reached only by a minority of them." Gattinara also said that about two-thirds of the children who arrived in Italy were well enough to be evaluated as outpatients but that "several presented with dangerous opportunistic infections" -- including tuberculosis and hepatitis -- that must be "promptly treated to avoid death." Vittorio Colizzi, an Italian HIV specialist who examined the children and testified for the nurses at their first trial, said, "There is a lack of hygiene, a lack of infection control [and] a lack of a system to protect patients from bloodborne infections" in Libya. He also said that patients often were given treatments with unscreened and unnecessary blood products and that these treatments were sometimes continued at home by "freelancing" health workers after a child's release from the hospital (Rosenthal, New York Times, 10/26).