Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saving Lives: The Tripoli Six

In order to maintain my sanity, I generally try to stick to domestic issues, but I probably wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't alert you to this. It's literally a life and death issue.

Revere at Effect Measure alerts us to an article and editorial in the British journal Nature about six medics (5 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor) on trial for their lives in Libya for allegedly infecting many children with HIV. They were tortured and forced to sign "confessions" written in Arabic they did not understand. This might be the ultimate "blame the worker" situation.

According to Revere, the scientific evidence for this has been examined by Luc Montagnier (co-discoverer of HIV) and he has concluded that the children were infected prior to the workers getting to the country, and other evidence implicates bad hospital hygiene as the cause. But Montagnier's evidence has been excluded by the Libyan judge and it now appears likely that the nurses and doctor will be condemned to death by firing squad.
The outraged parents are pressing for an explanation and foreign medics are more convenient than bad medical care. A last ditch attempt now is being made to restore some scientific content to the trial by demanding an independent scientific panel examine the evidence. If the Tripoli court returns a guilty verdict -- now considered likely that the scientific evidence has been excluded -- the only hope would be an appeal to the Libyan Supreme Court to convene the panel.
Thanks largely to Revere's efforts, the story is spreading throughout the blogosphere -- both liberal and conservative. And well it should. As Revere points out, this is a vitally important issue for anyone in the public health profession or anyone interested in human rights:
We still don't know where this is going. But for a doctor to see colleagues face firing squads for failures in the health care delivery system (dirty syringes) it is the ultimate metaphor, except that it's more than a metaphor for these six who have languished in prison for 7 years and now face the death penalty once again. They stand in for all of us who risk killing our patients because the tools we are given are so defective, our patients, through no fault of their own, are so sick, and the system so corrupt, cruel and inhumane it cares nothing for their deaths except as a political gambit to divert attention.
But, as Revere notes, it's not just a human rights story, it's also a science story:
how scientific evidence, presented by one of the world's leading HIV scientists, was rejected out of hand, the only exculpating evidence possible in favor of these five nurses and a doctor. The goal, now, is to push -- and push hard -- for an independent scientific panel to review the genetic evidence that the discoverer of HIV, Luc Montagnier, indicates shows these aid workers were not responsible for infecting Libyan children with the virus.
Aside from the obvious injustice, this affair brings back bad old memories from less than two decades ago when AIDS first hit this country and calls went out to requre HIV testing of every health care worker and calls to ban those who tested HIV postive from ever seeing patients. We managed to fight that off, but it left a bad taste of where fear and ignorance can lead if we don't fight them.

The second bad memory it dredges up was a World Health Organization meeting in which I participated in the late 1980's where health care professionals from around the world (but mostly North Americans and Western Europeans) discussed how to prevent hospital-borne HIV infections from contaminated needles and unprotected exopsure to blood. The group discussed the use of clean, disposable needles, the need to safely dispose of used needles and the importance of changing gloves after every patient. We thought we were making great progress until the late Dr. Jonathan Mann, then head of the WHO, smiled at our draft recommendations and reminded us that health care professionals in most developing countries were lucky to see one clean glove a day, much less one glove per patient, and disposable needles were generally an unffordable luxury.

We now take all of that for granted, but for most of the world it's still a struggle. And some would rather blame others for their inability to control their own environments.

What Is To Be Done

Write letters (preferably the kind that go in envelopes, with stamps) to the Libyan Embassy.
The best choice would be the Libyan UN Mission.

Mission of Libya to the United Nations
309 - 315 East 48th Street,
New York, NY 10017

The phone number for the UN mission is: (212) 752-5775
Email: The Center for Nursing Advocacy has an online form and form letter. The email address that they are using is:

After that, start on the American power structure, your congresspersons, Senators, committee members, the White House, etc. Go here and scroll to the bottom for more details.

More from Effect Measure on the Tripoli Six:

Saving the lives of six of our colleagues (The Tripoli Six)
"The Tripoli Six" campaign
Update on "The Tripoli Six" campaign

Daily Kos:We Urgently Need Your Help to Save the Tripoli Six, by nyceve
Firedoglake: And If They Were American Nurses?