Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

December 26, 2006

Christmas day and Libya death penalty case

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 12:40 am

I haven’t posted since the death penalty verdict last Tuesday, because I’m still analysing carefully all the different responses and positions. But it is Christmas Day, so I thought I’d post symbolically, just to point out it was on this very day last year that the six were cleared by the Supreme Court of Libya of the charges against them.

One year later, Valya Chervenyashka; Snezhana Dimitrova; Nasya Nenova; Valentina Siropulo; and Kristiana Valcheva, the five Bulgarian nurses, along with Ashraf Ahmad Jum’a, a Palestinian intern trainee doctor, have again been given the death sentence following the 19 December court ruling in the retrial at the Benghazi criminal court.

That is despite the fact that this was not a fair and impartial trial, and that the court refused to hear the considerable body of international scientific evidence that could exonerate the medics, and show that this is a typical hospital-borne spread.

The Libyan children are being treated in European hospitals — thanks in part to a humanitarian fund established by the international community –and this Christmas, our thoughts are also with them and their families. But denial of the problems all health systems face will not help these children, or those children who risk being infected in future through hospital infections in many countries, such as the almost 100 children infected with HIV in a Kazakhstan hospital this summer — see older BBC story here.

Bulgarian media have launched a “You are Not Alone” ribbon campaign for the six — see logo at top of this post. I endorse it, as defending the most basic of human rights; the right to a fair trial. This case is not only about fundamental human rights principles, but also about the role of scientific evidence, and how we face up to, and not deny, the potential health threats to us and our children, posed by deficiencies in all our health systems.

This case should be an issue of health and science, not a power play between governments as it is turning out to be. Let’s get back to the fundamental principles of health, science, and law in this case. And think of the two groups of innocent victims in this case; the six, falsely accused, and the infected children.

December 19, 2006

Libya condemns Tripoli Six to death

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 4:16 pm

By now, I am sure you all will have heard the grim news from Libya. I’ve written a short factual account here: Medics sentenced to death in Libya.

I’ll blog more later, after taking stock. The six health professionals have 60 days to appeal to the Supreme Court — their ultimate chance to obtain justice.

December 18, 2006

Background information resources for Libya HIV case

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya,Uncategorized — admin @ 5:45 pm

The verdict in the Libya HIV death penalty trial is expected to be announced tomorrow. Here are a few information resources that may be useful if you are blogging or writing about the trial.

The Council of Europe has a good and succint factual account of the case and the human rights violations.
This blog also has a resource page for the trial providing other background, and links to key media Editorials. This WSJ account by Judy Miller, who visited the prisoners recently, is also well worth a read.
ScienceBlogs has considerable coverage.
Nature has a special focus with free access to articles about the trial.
A selection of recent media and blog articles are bookmarked here.
European efforts to help the affected children are described here.

US State Department’s public face on Libya HIV case

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya — admin @ 12:33 am

Sean McCormack is the US State Department’s official spokesman. But he doesn’t seem to be very well-briefed on the death penalty trial in Libya of 5 Bulgarian nurses, and a Palestinian doctor, accused of injecting over 400 children with HIV, even though the verdict is expected next Tuesday.


December 17, 2006

Libyan scientist defends prosecution case in death penalty trial

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya — admin @ 8:57 pm

This link is to videos of a press conference held in Geneva last Friday, where the speakers defend the prosecution case in the Libya HIV trial.

One speaker is Mohamed Daw, head of the Department of Microbiology at the Faculty of Medicine, al-Fatah University. Daw was one of five independent Libyan experts, who authored of a 2003 report to the court. Here he defends his report; for an independent assessment of this report, see here. He shares the platform with Ramadan Ali El Faiture, speaking on behalf of the infected children and families.

I will leave you to judge for yourself the depth, rigour, and validity, of the scientific evidence presented.

December 10, 2006

Google Earth avian flu maps updated

Filed under: avian influenza,GIS,Google Earth,Open data — admin @ 11:08 pm

I’ve updated the flu maps to this weekend — link here.. Since August, the spread of avian flu, as reported, has shown a lull, with only a few animal outbreaks, reported, in Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, China and South Korea. Over the same period there have been 10 human cases in Indonesia, and 1 in Egypt.

December 8, 2006

Leading international medical bodies plead for charges to be dropped in Libya case after new scientific evidences

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya — admin @ 5:44 pm

Citing the new scientific evidence published in Nature this week, “the World Medical Association and the International Council of Nurses have sent a joint letter to the African Union, Amnesty International, the Libyan Government, the Council of Europe and Physicians for Human Rights drawing their attention to new scientific findings casting doubt on the evidence against the accused health professionals.”

The full text of their statement is given below. The World Medical Association,represents more than eight million physicians worldwide. The International Council of Nurses is a federation of 129 national nurses’ associations representing 13 millions nurses worldwide.

Full text below:


December 6, 2006

New scientific evidence in Libya death penalty case

Filed under: HIV,Justice,Libya — admin @ 6:50 pm

New molecular evidence, published online by Nature tonight — “Molecular epidemiology: HIV-1 and HCV sequences from Libyan outbreak” — and supplementary info — see hereprovides a firm alibi for the six medical workers facing the death penalty in Libya. They are charged with deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998.

An international team has used the genetic sequences of the viruses isolated from the patients to reconstruct the exact history, or “family tree” of the outbreak. Analysing mutations that accumulate over time has allowed the researchers to work out when different events occurred. The Brief Communication shows that the subtype of HIV involved was present and spreading locally well before the medical workers arrived in Libya in 1998.

The trial of the six ended in Tripoli on 4 November, and a verdict is expected on 19 December. A body of scientific evidence already indicates that the outbreak was caused not by deliberate transmission, but by poor hospital hygiene. These results, by Tulio de Oliveira and colleagues, provide the first independent molecular confirmation.

I’ve an accompanying news article — Molecular HIV evidence backs accused medics — that discusses the case case and how important this new evidence could be — the full pdf, with box is here. Phylogenetic HIV analyses have been used in court cases worldwide involving allegations of accidental or deliberate HIV infection. Thomas Leitner of Los Alamos National Laboratory has provided forensic HIV evidence in more than 30 such cases over the past 15 years. He describes the Nature paper as “compelling evidence that the outbreak had started before the accused could have started it.”

The news article cites several other assessments by scientists who have been involved in HIV phylogenetic evidence presented in court cases of the new findings.

Here are two more comments, that came in after we had gone to press:

The scientific data presented by de Oliveria et al. convincingly establish multiple infections in the children prior to the arrival of the Bulgarian staff in March, 1998 at the hospital. These data sufficiently refute any connection with the staff, directly or indirectly. This is a real travesty given the refusal by the Libyan courts to consider key scientific evidence that gets to the truth of the matter.”

Mike Metzker, Baylor College of Medicine, Human Genome Sequencing Center

Using state of the art evolutionary analyses, they demonstrate that the likely dates for the most-recent common ancestors (MRCAs) of the HCV and HIV-1 viral sequences pre-date the presence of the Bulgarian nurses in the Al-Fateh Hospital. Taken as a whole, the results of the analyses of de Oliveira et al. are highly inconsistent with the allegations of the Libyan prosecutors.”

Gerald Learn, evolutionary geneticist at the University of Washington

Related resources
Nature Libya Focus
My resources page for the trial

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