International Law

Libyan Medics' HIV Sentences Now Life

Libya’s High Judicial Council has commuted to life imprisonment the death sentences initially imposed on six foreign medics convicted in a controversial case of having intentionally started an HIV epidemic in a children’s hospital.

The commutation today was prompted by a foreign financial settlement of $460 million to be paid to the families of 460 HIV-infected children, which also paves the way for the six medics potentially to be freed, reports Reuters. The five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have been in jail since 1999.

They were sentenced in December after having been convicted of deliberately spreading the HIV virus—which can eventually cause AIDS—in a children’s hospital in Benghazi. However, they say they are innocent and were tortured into confessing. Although the epidemic among the hospitalized children—56 are now dead from AIDS—is viewed by many of the victims’ families as a Western plot against Libya and Muslims in general. Representatives of Bulgaria, the European Union and the U.S. say the medics are scapegoats deflecting attention from Libyan officials responsible for the North African country’s problematic health care system.

Medical experts outside Libya say the children were exposed to HIV before the six medics arrived, probably because of poor hygiene, according to Reuters. Although HIV requires blood-to-blood contact for virus transmission, it can easily be spread by the use of shared equipment, such as needles, in drug injections and other medical procedures.

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