Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Tripoli Six

Orac has posted a call for help regarding six nurses who have been accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS. The women have arleady been sentenced to death once (in a verdict that was overturned; a second trial is proceeding currently), even though the charges appear to be entirely without merit.
During the first trial, the Libyan government did ask Luc Montagnier, whose group at the Pasteur Institute in Paris discovered HIV, and Vittorio Colizzi, an AIDS researcher at Rome's Tor Vergata University, to examine the scientific evidence. The researchers carried out a genetic analysis of viruses from the infected children, and concluded that many of them were infected long before the medics set foot in Libya in March 1998. Many of the children were also infected with hepatitis B and C, suggesting that the infections were spread by poor hospital hygiene. The infections were caused by subtypes of A/G HIV-1 — a recombinant strain common in central and west Africa, known to be highly infectious.

But the court threw out the report, arguing that an investigation by Libyan doctors had reached the opposite conclusion. Montagnier believes the judgement was based at least partly on mistranslation from English to Arabic of the term 'recombinant' — instead of referring to natural recombination of wild viruses, as intended, it was interpreted to mean genetically modified, implying human manipulation.

According to Alexiev [a defense lawyer for the women], the decision to throw out the report removed all scientific content from the case, leaving a series of prejudgements, and confessions extracted under torture.
That quote was from a Nature editorial, which has helped bring more attention to the case. If you want more information, Orac's two posts (Libya's miscarriage of justice and The Tripoli Six: The blogosphere keeps up the pressure) have more details on the story, including links to an online documentary and information on how you can help.

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