Trial Involving Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Involves ‘Profound Political Issues,’ Opinion Piece Says
The "scientific community, AIDS activists and Libyan government would do well to recognize ... the political and diplomatic import of the case" involving five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of infecting Libyan children with HIV, Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a PLoS Medicine opinion piece (Garrett, PLoS Medicine, 10/26). 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. A retrial of the medical workers is expected on Oct. 31 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/26). The trial "involves a great deal more than the lives" of the medical workers, Garrett writes, adding, "At stake are some of the most profound political issues of out time: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the freedom of movement of health care workers and scientists and the Biological Weapons Convention." Although Libya is "now on a path to joining the world as a global citizen," if "any major player believes Libya is reneging on agreements" -- such as those concerning the 1988 explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, or nuclear proliferation and terrorism -- or "acting in bad faith, the normalization process could be imperiled," according to Garrett. In addition, the "stakes are high for scientists and health care workers" in general because if there is "any hope of conquering the AIDS pandemic, physicians, nurses, technicians and scientists must be free to work in countries other than their citizenship home," Garrett writes. "It is critical that the scientific community recognize what is at stake in this case," Garrett writes, concluding, "It is your freedom of movement and work; it is the strength of the Biological Weapons Convention; it is Libya's laudable willingness to remove itself from the list of nations that support terrorism and seek nuclear weapons capability. And it is freedom for six unjustly treated colleagues" (PLoS Medicine, 10/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.