Journal criticises Libya HIV case

(c) AFPA prestigious British science journal has spoken out about a trial in Libya involving six foreign medical workers.

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are accused of deliberately injecting more than 400 children with HIV-infected blood in 1998.

Two years ago they were found guilty and sentenced to death, but that was overturned on appeal.

Now they are facing the death penalty once more. But experts say the evidence against them is hopelessly flawed.

The six foreign medics, who have been in Libyan jails for the past seven years, say they are innocent.

They say poor hygiene at the Benghazi hospital where they worked was to blame for the children's infections.

That is supported by evidence prepared for the defence by the man credited with discovering the HIV virus, Luc Montagnier.

Solid evidence

He found many of the children were infected with a different strain of HIV to the one suggested by the prosecution, and also had hepatitis, suggesting poor hygiene was common at the hospital.

In both the first and current trials, the court refused to accept those findings.

Now the science journal Nature has taken the unusual step of obtaining documents key to the prosecution's case.

Nature had the documents translated into English, and had them assessed by Aids experts from six countries.

Researcher after researcher said the Libyan evidence was hopelessly flawed.

Professor Janine Jagger, an epidemiologist who specialises in workplace exposure to HIV, said there was nothing in the prosecution's case to suggest the children had been deliberately infected.

In addition, Professor Jagger says there is solid evidence, which the court has refused to hear - that some of the children were HIV-positive long before the foreign staff joined the hospital.

When a retrial of the case was ordered last year, medical experts outside Libya expected it to be dismissed immediately as soon as it began, as part of Tripoli's growing rapprochment with the West.

But that has not happened.

In August, the chief prosecutor again demanded the death penalty if the six are convicted.

The hearings are due to resume next week.