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Libyan Trial of Health Care Workers Who Allegedly Infected Children With HIV May End Soon

January 28, 2004

The Libyan trial of six Bulgarian health care workers charged with deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV through contaminated blood products may end soon, BBC News reports. Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has accused the workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service Mossad to kill Libyan children in order to destabilize the country, according to BBC News (Wood, BBC News, 1/26). However, some European governments and human rights groups say that the Libyan Health Ministry failed to screen blood products adequately and allowed poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the children were infected. The health care workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999. A civil prosecutor in September 2003 requested about $10 million in compensation for the families of each HIV-positive child. The trial was suspended in December 2003 to await an opinion by a group of Libyan doctors (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/5). AIDS and infectious disease experts, including HIV co-discoverer Luc Montagnier, have testified for both the defense and prosecution.

Seeking Acceptance?
According to BBC News, "[h]opes are high" that Libya will release the health care workers as early as next month in an attempt to end the country's isolation from the international community. Western diplomats have said that the health care workers were accused of spreading HIV because Libyan authorities needed someone to blame for the "tragedy," which has caused "outrage" in the country, BBC News reports (BBC News, 1/26). Kadafi has promised Western diplomats that he will intervene, but his decision is expected to have political implications. If he accepts the European opinion that the epidemic was caused by Libya's health system, he likely will win the support of Europe but will be forced to accept blame in his home country, a move that could cost more than $4 billion if Libya provides the requested compensation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/15). However, the outcome of the trial also could be seen by many "as a test of just how serious Libya is about ending its long, and sometimes rather paranoid, isolation," according to BBC News (BBC News, 1/26). The court is expected to announce the verdicts at a hearing on Feb. 9, according to Bulgarian News Digest (Bulgarian News Digest, 1/27).

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