Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor are free after 8.5 years in Libyan prison.
In February 1999 nineteen Bulgarian medical workers were arrested for infecting over 438 Libyan children with HIV. Eventually five of them were sentenced to death, together with a Palestinian doctor. After overturning the convictions in 2005 and ordering a new trial, the Libyan Supreme Court upheld the death sentences in July. The High Judicial Council (Libya’s top legal body) then commuted the sentences to life imprisonment after the children’s families agreed to accept compensation of one million dollars per child. They were allow to serve their sentence in Bulgaria, where they were pardoned on arrival today. (Timeline from the BBC).
I’m no fan of Qaddafi (I still believe that he has significant responsibility for the 1990 coup attempt), but in this matter he was a voice of reason.
The underlying issues are far more disturbing. The idea that HIV was invented by the West to depopulate Africa is a well-established myth that people really believe. And, presumably, based on this myth, the Libyan courts were willing to convict these people based on dubious confessions. In addition, a study published in Nature in later 2006 showed that the subtype of HIV was present in Libya before the medics arrived in Libya, which supports the idea that the infection probably resulted from poor hygiene and the reuse of needles at the hospital.
There are too many tragedies here for words. Each of the 400+ children infected with HIV is a tragedy of monumental proportion. The fate of the medics is terrible: even if the final outcome is about as good as could be expected, they obviously went through 8 awful years. And, of course, this would have had a terribly chilling effect on medicine in Libya. I would be surprised if many foreign medics are willing to work there, and it can’t have been good for local medical professions.