Doing the right thing isn't always enough

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Sandra Porter


Decan Butler, the Reveres, and Nature have written that verdict is in. The scientific evidence has been shunted aside. The nurses and doctor who traveled to Tripoli on a humanitarian mission have been sentenced to death. There is still a chance, but it seems to be slim.

Two articles in Nature, with free access (I think) discuss the case and present some additional shocking news.

To quote the main article (Europe condemns Libyan trial verdict):

The six medical workers were sentenced to death on 19 December by the Benghazi Criminal Court for deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV at the Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. Scientists around the world have argued that medical evidence shows unequivocally that the people were not infected deliberately.


The team defending the medical workers says that it will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court in Libya. By law, this must be done within 60 days of the verdict. The Supreme Council for Judicial Authority could also annul the death sentences. The council, which makes judicial appointments, is an interface between Libya's supposedly separated executive and judiciary authorities.

I was even more shocked to read in the main Nature article that:

They point out that the outbreak was a typical example of what can go wrong when hospital equipment and supplies become contaminated -- as happened in a hospital in Kazakhstan, where more than 80 children were infected with HIV last summer.

Last summer? Haven't we learned anything?

It was almost 150 years ago when Ignace Semmelweis published his ideas on having surgeons wash their hands before delivering babies. He was able to reduce the number of deaths, of new mothers, from 10-35% to less than 1%.

I'm really glad that there are non-profit groups like PATH looking at ways to prevent these kinds of disasters.

Hospitals should not be a place of danger.


1. Decan Butler, 2007. "Europe condemns Libyan trial verdict." Nature 445, 7