We've written before about the dire straits the Tripoli health care workers from Bulgaria (nurses) and Palestine (doctor) are in. Libya has accused them of infecting Libyan children with HIV and because of that, they are sentenced to death.
International experts in DNA forensics say that a paper published online by Nature this week provides a firm alibi for the six medical workers facing the death penalty in Libya. The workers have been charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. In the study, an international team led by researchers from Oxford and Rome used the genetic sequences of the viruses isolated from the patients to reconstruct the exact phylogeny, or ‘family tree’, of the outbreak. Analysing the mutations that accumulated over time allowed the researchers to work out when different outbreaks occurred. They showed that the strain of HIV with which the children had been infected was already present and spreading locally in the mid-1990s, long before the medics arrived in Libya in 1998. The trial of the six medical workers ended in Tripoli on 4 November, and a verdict is expected on 19 December. Despite mounting international pressure to free them, defence lawyers are pessimistic about the outcome, and Nature has fast-tracked publication to make this new evidence available before the verdict (see Nature 444, doi:10.1038/nature444836a; 2006).
You can read more at Effect Measure:
Why Nature and the scienceblogosphere for a human rights case, even a high profile one? Because this is also a science story, or, more properly, a story where science that could have exonerated the defendants has been ignored, resulting in a trial which was neither fair nor impartial. That science has now appeared (.pdf), appropriately, in Nature, the world's most prestigious scientific journal. An exhaustive analysis of the HIV and Hepatitis C sequences from virus isolated from 44 of the children finds the "strains were already circulating and prevalent in the [al-Fateh Hospital] and its environs before the arrival in March 1998" of the defendants. Thirty seven of the children had some epidemiological data available and it shows that all had undergone invasive procedures, either as inpatients or outpatients. This supports the overwhelming evidence that the most likely mode of infection was through poor hospital hygiene, which independent investigations of the hospital showed was prevalent.
And why Daily Kos and TNH?
We know your earlier efforts made a difference. We can only hope it will help affect the anticipated judgment of the Libyan court.
There's not much time left, and blogging about this is one of the few ways to attract the attention of those that can possibly put pressure on Libya to reconsider. We feel at least obligated to try again to do something that might help.