Friday, September 08, 2006

The HIV trial in Libya, part 1: The infection and the charges

I have intended to write about the HIV trial in Libya ever since I begun this blog. I have mentioned this trial in two earlier posts, here and in a here. These days Libyan-American blogger Suliman expressed wish to put a comment about this trial on my blog, so I am providing an appropriate post. I warn from the beginning that I won't try to be "objective" and when writing of what evil and crazy people did, will use the adjectives that seem appropriate to me.
To my surprise, the trial has its own page in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS_scandal_in_Libya. A chronology of the events by the Bulgarian news agency BTA can be found at http://www.bta.bg/site/libya/en/02chronology.htm. However, it reflects exclusively what official Bulgarian institutions say.
Because the text will be too long, I'll divide it into more than one post.
The infection
The core of the story are the numerous cases of HIV-infected children among those treated in the El-Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. It is difficult to say when the infections began, given the various and often long incubation periods of the disease, the tendency of the Libyan authorities to lie even when the dates of infections are known in order to dismiss the possibility that some occured before the defendants began work in the hospital, and the wish of the same authorities to put under the common denominator all childhood HIV infections in Libya. According to two Western scientists who later became defense witnesses, the epidemic began in 1997. The official number of the infected children is 426.
At any rate, in 1998 it became evident that there was a real AIDS epidemic among children in Benghazi and that at least for some of them the only possible infection source was the El-Fateh Children's Hospital. At first, the reaction of the authorities was to try to cover up the problem. A Libyan, when later asked by the Bulgarian journalist Nina Spasova why such an important event wasn't widely discussed in public space, answered by asking, "In 1986, was there much public talk about Chernobyl in Bulgaria?".
However, the three-digit number of infected children made silence impossible. The story was made public by the Libyan magazine La in an article including interviews with victims' parents and linking the infection to the particular hospital. Years ago, I read an English translation of this article at the Libya Our Home site. Unfortunately, I cannot find it now. The article was published without (and as it turned out, against) the authorities' approval. For that reason, the journal was closed. I don't know what happened to the journalists; I hope they just lost their jobs and didn't suffer further consequences.
To prove how unobjective I am, I'll state right now what my opinion is: the infection was due to poor hygiene and violation of safety rules in the hospital. This was clear to all people with common sense right from the beginning. Later the above mentioned scientists, Luc Montagnier (co-discoverer of HIV) and Vittorio Colizzi, wrote a report coming to the same conclusion. However, the official Libyan opinion was different.
The charges
Libyan authorities finally reacted to the scandal by arresting dozens of foreign medics-guest workers from various countries. Most foreigners were soon released but another wave of arrests followed, smaller and targetting exclusively Bulgarians. So in early 1999 the list of the defendants "crystallized", including 6 Bulgarians (5 nurses and a doctor), a Palestinian doctor and 9 Libyan doctors holding high positions at the El-Fateh hospital. The foreigners were accused of INTENTIONALLY infecting the children, while the Libyans were accused only of carelessly letting the satanic foreign plot unveil under their very noses. At least some of these Libyan defendants later, speaking before the court, supported the official version of intentional infection and so tried to save their asses by sacrificing their colleagues. They were acquitted, so the only court they may have problems with is that of their conscience. (By the way, not all Western media kept silence about these defendants, as seemed to Highlander; e.g. San Francisco Chronicle mentions them athttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/06/06/INGUQ6VPD91.DTL.)
The alleged motivation of this monstrous alleged crime? I'll cite a BBC report: "At one point, the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, had accused the health workers of acting on orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service, Mossad. Libya later rowed back on this allegation." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3689355.stm). I know from the media (unfortunately, I cannot find a link) that currently the Libyan prosecution says the accused were performing an illegal trial of anti-HIV vaccine developed by a Western company. They allegedly injected the children first with the vaccine and then with the actual virus to see whether the vaccine works (and it evidently didn't).
Should I discuss the original charge, after it is so absurd that even its authors couldn't maintain it after the case received international publicity? It seems to me that to duscuss it, means to offend the intellectual capacity of my readers. However, I cannot skip it because, according to opinion polls and my personal observation, many Muslims either believe it or for some reason find it necessary to claim that they believe it. I won't state that Bulgarians are not so blood-thirsty and it is virtually impossible to find not one or two but six Bulgarian psychopaths to realize such a plan. This would be akin to the statements of many Arabs and Muslims that Arabs and Muslims are good people and would never crash kidnapped planes into buildings. Nobody buys such arguments, and with good reason.
However, each crime (unless done by absolutely insane people) has its motivation and purpose. Why would CIA and/or Mossad attack Libyan children? Both secret services have had enough experience with totalitarian regimes to know that a regime like Qaddafi's one cannot be harmed by terror against civilians. It is democratic governments that are vulnerable to terror. So why waste the virus? I can imagine CIA encouraging some top Libyan officials to overthrow Mr. Qaddafi, but not to supply virus for Libyan children. As for Mossad, they lack even the motivation. As far as I know, the Q-man doesn't do much harm to Israel. Well, he brainwashes his people with anti-Semitism, but who doesn't do this? If Mossad wanted to fight their Arab enemies by infecting children, wouldn't you rather expect Palestinian children to be infected?
Besides, both secret services would have enormous problems with the law and the public opinion once the operation comes to light. Remember what problems Sharon had with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, although it was done by Israel's Lebanese allies and not by Israelis themselves. As for the USA, they are still in shock because years ago the penises of suspected criminals and terrorists were photographed in Abu Ghraib.
Also, when one is considering a current event, it is often helpful (though no proof) to compare it to similar earlier events. I know of two accusations of deliberately causing epidemics in order to hurt a regime or a community: against the medieval Jews (e.g. http://scarab.msu.montana.edu/historybug/YersiniaEssays/Doherty.htm) and against Jewish doctors at the end of Stalin's rule (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctors). It is now evident that both were phony: in the first case, the Jews couldn't have the necessary knowledge of plague epidemiology needed to use it as a bio-weapon, nor could they have any means to protect themselves; in the second case, there was simply no epidemic at all. On the other hand, known iatrogenic (i.e. caused by medical procedures) AIDS epidemics have been found to be due to "incompetence, greed, bribery, denial, and conflict of interest" - but not to malicious intent (see e.g. http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/340/12/973 and for cases of children's infections, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=990CE7DE1730F932A0575BC0A963958260 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=14534057&dopt=Abstract).
Let's now consider the current charge that the children were infected in order to perform an illegal vaccine trial. At least, this is not a thing unheard of in history: Edward Jenner did exactly this, vaccinating with cowpox and then innoculating with smallpox first his baby son and then another 8-year-old boy. However, his vaccine worked and so he is remembered as a hero, not as a villain. Of course today it is absolutely unthinkable to innoculate a pathogen in order to test a vaccine's efficiency. You have to recruit a large group of volunteers, inject half of them with the vaccine (of which you believe that it is at least safe) and the others with a placebo, then let them live their lives and check how many will catch the infection naturally. If you do the things like Jenner did, you not only risk to find yourself behind bars, but you cannot publish the results in any scientific journals and hence cannot make money from your vaccine. So why make an illegal trial, after you have to make a legal one anyway to obtain publishable results? Why do the work twice?
"But the illegal trial will show you whether the vaccine works or not, and if it doesn't work, you needn't perform a legal trial and will save money and time," somebody might say.
No, the illegal trial will show nothing. You need to recruit some idiots to do it and smuggle first the vaccine, then the actual virus. If the injected children remain healthy, this means either that the vaccine works or that the virus has lost its virulence because of the non-standard conditions of the trial (e.g. overheated during the smuggling or improperly manipulated by the idiots). If the children become infected, this means either that the vaccine doesn't work or that it has lost its activity, as was just described for the virus. At the end of the day, you know nothing. No one pharmaceutical company operating this way would survive in business for more than three days. So, I think that the vaccine trial hypothesis also doesn't hold water.
Anyway, at some time the epidemics was halted. Not immediately after the arrests, but some time after them the young patients of the El Fateh hospital stopped being infected. To my opinion, this shows that while the professional torturers were weaving fairy tales about CIA and Mossad, another team of professionals was sent to the hospital to find out what was wrong and fix it. However, these men and women remain unknown to us because any acknowledgement of their work would blow up the official conspiracy theory. So they haven't received and are unlikely ever to receive the gratitudes of the Benghazi parents whose kids would otherwise also be infected and the whole Libyan society. But, as Walter Scott once wrote, people who fulfil their duty are rarely rewarded by the world, their reward is a sense of internal satisfaction which the world could neither give nor take away.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I didnt find thing that i need... :-(
msn

Anonymous said...

Hello Maya!

Lovely analysis. I absolutely agree with everything you have articulated. Your explanation touches on an issue with much broader and profound implications. Arabs are, by nature, a barbaric and backward group of people. Everything the arabs say is a lie. One amazingly reads this in Cervantes. This genius author who spent 5 years in an arab prison knew these savages well, and he always re-iterates what a deceptive group of people the arabs are.

Caio,

Alastair Bayfield

Maya M said...

Alastair, thank you for the support, but I strongly disagree with you about the Arabs. Your remark that they are "by nature, a barbaric and backward group of people" seems to imply biological inferiority of Arabs, and I am deeply convinced that no group of people is biologically inferior or superior to another group. I do find "defects" in Arab culture and way of life and I have discussed them on Arab blogs. (I advise you to read Arab blogs - I have linked some which I like.) But I think that dismissing all of the Arab culture and national character and calling Arabs names as you do is utterly injust, and utterly unhelpful as well. Perhaps you have written your comment before cooling down after some Arab has annoyed you :) ?
About Cervantes - remember that he invented a Moor to be a storyteller for his "Don Quixote". In the same book, he showed deep sympathy to the Moors who were being expelled from Spain. (That in a time when a writer hadn't the freedom to criticize any action of his country's rulers.)

Sharon said...

Hi,

1 in 4 sexually active teenagers become infected with an STD every year, in the United States alone. Now, more than ever, we need to join together to fight this growing issue. As I read through your website, it is clear that you share the same passion for STD/STI awareness. We here, at Disease.com, understand the importance of STD/STI prevention and treatments. If you could, please list us as a resource or host our social book mark button, it would be much appreciated. We can not reach every teenager, but together we can try.
If you need more information please mail me with the subject line as your URL.

Thnak You,
Sharon Vegoe
Disease.com