Medical Workers Accused of Infecting Libyan Children With HIV Are ‘Scapegoats’ for Country With ‘Homegrown HIV Problem,’ Perspective Piece Says
"HIV Injustice in Libya -- Scapegoating Foreign Medical Professionals," New England Journal of Medicine: The five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV might "sadly become the scapegoats for another country that is loath to admit to a homegrown HIV problem," International Herald Tribune reporter and physician Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in an NEJM perspective piece (Rosenthal, New England Journal of Medicine, 12/14). 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. New genetic evidence published earlier in the month in the journal Nature, found that the HIV outbreak at the hospital began up to three years before the medical workers arrived at the facility. The evidence also showed that the children were infected with a strain of HIV that is common in West Africa. According to the study's 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/7). Although international experts have "pored over patients charts, tested hundreds of blood samples ... and observed patients care activities" at the hospital, their findings do "not seem to matter" in the Libyan court, Rosenthal writes. She adds, "It seems that the nurses and doctor were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time" (New England Journal of Medicine, 12/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.