Doctors face murder charges in Libya

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 03 February 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:260
  1. Carl Kovac,
  2. Radko Khandjiev
  1. Budapest

    Sixteen doctors, nurses, and managers at the Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi, Libya, are standing trial in Tripoli. All are charged with subverting the country's healthcare system, and seven are charged with murder. The trial, which has been adjourned several times, is scheduled to resume next week.

    According to an 11 count indictment issued by the People's Claim Bureau, seven of the defendants are charged with murdering 393 children at the Al-Fateh hospital in 1998 by injecting them with HIV. Twenty three of the children had died by 30 October 1999, the indictment says.

    The seven accused of murder—a Bulgarian doctor, five Bulgarian nurses, and a Palestinian doctor, all working under contract at the hospital—face the death penalty if convicted.

    The Palestinian doctor and three of the nurses are also accused of having sexual relations “outside marriage.” One of the nurses is also charged with providing the Palestinian doctor with liquor, which “made him dependent and put him under her will in order to continue the crime.” The Bulgarian doctor and four of the nurses are also accused of drinking alcohol in violation of Libyan law.

    The indictment also charges the Palestinian doctor and one of the nurses with violating Libya's foreign exchange laws through illegal transactions on the black market and illegal exports and imports.

    Nine Libyans, including the director of the Al-Fateh Hospital and the undersecretary of Benghazi's Department of Health, are charged with exposing 19 of the mothers of the infected children to HIV. They “hid the fact that the children were already infected” and failed to take prophylactic measures to protect the mothers.

    “In their capacity as government employees, they have committed malpractice to achieve illegal material benefit for themselves by concealing the results of laboratory analyses of the infected children,” the indictment says. The hospital director and the health department's undersecretary are specifically charged with having “abused their positions for personal benefit.”

    Ironically, according to a UNAIDS report, Libya has not supplied any information on AIDS cases in that country for 1998-2000. Suleiman Al-Gamary, the former head of Libya's health service, has reportedly expressed concern over the deterioration of the country's health services and the shortage of medicines and hospital supplies as a result of the former UN sanctions against Libya.

    According to Libyan authorities, the accused staff have been in custody since their arrest on 9 February 1999 after an investigation.

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