Libya must free the 6 health workers wrongly accused of infecting children with HIV

Libya must acknowledge that the case involving six health workers accused of deliberately infecting over 400 children with HIV has no legal foundation, states an Editorial in this weeks issue. The Lancet calls for these health workers to be freed immediately.

Since 1999, five Bulgarian nursesValya Chervenyashka, Snezana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Kristiana Valcevaand a Palestinian doctor, Ashraf Ahmad Juma, have been the victims of a miscarriage of justice in Libya. In that year, these six, who had been working since 1998 at al-Fatih Childrens Hospital in Benghazi, were arrested and charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV, and causing at least 40 deaths.

The six were denied legal representation until arriving in court for trial. In prison, according to human rights organisations, they confessed to the charges, after being horrifically tortured. Experts have concluded that the HIV infections were caused by poor sanitary practices. But this scientific evidence was ultimately thrown out, and in 2004, the six were sentenced to death by firing squad. Nine Libyan healthcare workers who were also charged in the case were acquitted. The six foreigners have been on death row ever since. The case was overturned by the Libyan Supreme Court, and a retrial granted. A verdict is expected on Dec 19.

The Lancet unreservedly denounces this miscarriage of justice. A great deal is at stake here, including Libyas political and diplomatic future. Libya must acknowledge that this case has no legal foundation, and then move to correct the conditions that created the whole sorry situation in the first place. Reforming its broken healthcare system and ultimately improving the health of its children and indeed all of its citizens, must begin with saving these six lives, concludes the Editorial.


Contact: Joe Santangelo

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