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PHR Calls on Libya to Release Nurses and Physician

As in China, Kazakhstan, Romania and the US, Children Are Probable Victims of Shared Medical Supplies

For Immediate Release

PHR Calls on Libya to Release Nurses and Physician Immediately; PHR Calls on US Government to Aggressively Advocate For Their Release

Physicians for Human Rights is protesting the jailing and unfair trial of five nurses and a physician accused of infecting hundreds of children with HIV in a Libyan hospital. On December 19, a Libyan court is expected to issue a verdict on the case of the nurses –Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhanka Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, and Kristiana Valcheva –and physician — Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a—being tried for infecting more than 400 of children with HIV in Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi, Libya.

"The only just outcome of this trial would be the immediate release of the nurses and physician," said PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.

"The children who were infected at the Benghazi Hospital deserve treatment and compensation for what has happened to them, but all the children of Libya need a healthcare system that is designed to prevent these outbreaks. Putting innocent health professionals to death who came to the country to assist Libya's people will provide neither healthcare nor justice to those who need it most."

It is unclear whether conditions that precipitated the outbreak are still in place in Libyan hospitals.

This is the health workers' second trial; they were convicted at the first trial, during which pivotal scientific evidence was rejected for consideration by the judge. That conviction and death sentence were thrown out on a legal technicality. The accused have been imprisoned by the Libyan government for nearly eight years. The prisoners, who confessed to the charges under torture, face a death sentence.

Repeated scientific studies, including a new study published this month in the highly respected peer-review journal Nature, indicate that a strain of HIV was spreading among the children before the accused nurses and doctor began working at the hospital. The evidence shows that the children were likely infected through the re-use of infected medical instruments and supplies, a frequent conduit of HIV in hospitals that fail to follow so-called "universal precautions." Many countries, such as China, Romania, and Kazakhstan, have also experienced widespread accidental HIV infection due to reused medical equipment that was not sterilized. US hospitals battle a similar problem; lethal staph infections are spread to patients inadvertently through the re-use of blood pressure cuffs and on the hands and gloves of medical workers.

PHR is calling upon the Libyan government to release these healthworkers and on other governments, most notably the US, to exert all possible influence on the LIbyan authorities to do so.

"The health workers are being scapegoated so that the spotlight will not turn on Khaddafi and his government's management of the hospitals during the time the children were infected. Children in Libya, like children everywhere, deserve a safe health system," added Sirkin.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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