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Medical Workers Bring Attention To HIV/AIDS Epidemic In Libya

Armen Hareyan's picture

HIV/AIDS Epidemic In Libya

The "drawn-out drama" of the six medical workers released recentlyfrom Libyan prison after being sentenced to death for allegedlyintentionally infecting hundreds of children with HIV is bringingattention to the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, HIV/AIDS in Libya has "never been fully acknowledged" and "continues to spread" (Rosenthal, New York Times, 7/29).

Thefive Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor in May 2004 were sentencedto death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIVthrough contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital inBenghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million tothe families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court inDecember 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered aretrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death. The medicalworkers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with theLibyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction earlierthis month. The six medical workers last week were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in the country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26).

Libya by the end of 2006 had recorded 10,450 HIV/AIDS cases to the World Health Organization, but many experts consider the number of people living with the disease in the country to be much higher, the Times reports.Gabriele Riedner -- regional adviser to WHO in Cairo, Egypt -- said,"There may be a lot [of HIV/AIDS cases] out there that's not detectedor reported, as is true in many countries in the region."

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Accordingto a recent WHO report, there is "evidence of increasing HIV infectionsin Libya, especially among the younger age groups." The majority of HIVcases in the country occur among injection drug users, according to theTimes (New York Times, 7/29).

Related Editorial

"To Westerners, the repatriation" of the medical workers means the "endof the an unsettling ordeal," Harriet Washington -- author of "MedicalApartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on BlackAmericans From Colonial Times to the Present" -- writes in a Timesopinion piece. However, to "many Africans, the accusations" against themedical workers "seem perfectly plausible," Washington writes, addingthat their release "appears to be the latest episode in a health carenightmare in which white and Western-trained doctors and nurses haveharmed Africans -- and have gone unpunished."

According toWashington, to "dismiss the Libyan accusations of medical malfeasanceout of hand means losing an opportunity to understand why a dangeroussuspicion of medicine is so widespread in Africa." She adds that"well-publicized events" -- including the Libyan case and onesinvolving "Western medical miscreants who have intentionallyadministered deadly agents" to people in Africa "under the guise ofproviding health care or conducting research" -- have spread a "fear ofmedicine throughout" the continent. These fears have had a directconsequence in Africa -- such as a rise of polio cases in Nigeria, Chadand Burkina Faso because of beliefs that polio "vaccines arecontaminated with HIV or are actually sterilization agents in disguise"-- Washington writes, adding that these "tragedies highlight thechallenges facing the most idealistic medical workers" in Africa.

"Weshould approach Africans' suspicion with respect," Washington writes,concluding, "By continuing to dismiss their reasonable fears, we raisethe risk of even more needless illness and death" on the continent(Washington, New York Times, 7/31).


Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork\t\t\t\t\t\t\t

Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and signup for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.