ResourcesPress Release

PHR Condemns Conviction and Death Sentence of Doctor and Nurses in Libya

For Immediate Release

Re-used Medical Supplies the Probable Cause of the HIV Outbreak; 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 condemns the unfair trial, conviction and death sentence of five nurses and a physician accused of infecting hundreds of children with HIV in a Libyan hospital.

"The nurses and doctor have been jailed for eight years, tortured and sentenced to death twice. They are victims in this merciless process. Science, the truth and the families manipulated by propaganda are also victims in this very sad case," said PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.

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.

Peer-reviewed medical research has determined that the infections began before the time that the doctor and nurses worked in the hospital, pointing to re-used medical equipment as the likely cause of the children's HIV infection. Re-used, unsterilized medical instruments and supplies are a frequent conduit of HIV infection 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 outbreaks 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.

The nurses–Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhanka Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, and Kristiana Valcheva–and physician–Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a–worked in Al-Fateh hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They will appeal the verdict.

"The only just outcome of this trial would be the immediate release of the nurses and physician," said 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."

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 also convicted at the first trial, during which scientific evidence was rejected 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 confessed to the charges under torture.

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.

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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