New Genetic Evidence That Medical Workers Did Not Infect Libyan Children With HIV Published in Journal
New genetic evidence that five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV did not do so was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (Ritter, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/6). The six medical workers in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad 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. At the retrial, the prosecution reiterated its call for the health workers to be executed. A Libyan court on Dec. 19 is scheduled to deliver a verdict in the case (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/7).
According to the AP/San Jose Mercury News, in order to estimate when the outbreak occurred, researchers used genetic information from HIV and hepatitis virus samples taken from 44 of the HIV-positive children. The researchers found that the HIV outbreak at the hospital began up to three years before the medical workers arrived at the facility. In addition, the researchers concluded that the children were infected with a strain of HIV that is common in West Africa. According to the researchers, many Libyan immigrants come from the region. The evidence suggests that the HIV-positive children were exposed to the virus because of insufficient infection control at the hospital, which likely involved improper equipment sterilization before injections, Oliver Pybus of Oxford University and co-author of the analysis said (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/6). Idriss Lagha, head of the Libyan Union for Children Infected With HIV, said the report's conclusions are "baseless and nonsense" (Ritter, AP/Toronto Star, 12/7). According to the Libyan government, the children were infected with a potentially man-made form of the virus, and previously, Libya was the only African country without any HIV/AIDS cases (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 12/7). Vittorio Colizzi of the Universita Di Roma and co-author of the analysis said he does not know if the data will be formally submitted to the court. He added that the scientists have done their job, now "the game is in the hands of politicians and journalists" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/6).