LONDON, Dec. 6 (Reuters) - Scientists have produced new evidence that casts doubt on charges against five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused by Libya of deliberately infecting 426 children with the virus that causes AIDS in 1998.
A team of international scientists who reconstructed the history of the virus from samples from the Libyan children has shown that a subtype of H.I.V. began infecting patients at Al Fateh Children?s Hospital in Benghazi before the foreign medical team arrived.
?The evidence shows the chain of infection started a few years before the arrival of the foreign staff accused of causing it deliberately,? Dr. Tulio de Oliveira, a molecular virologist at Oxford University, said in an interview.
A retrial of the six health workers ended in Tripoli last month. The prosecutor demanded the death penalty after five Libyan experts in H.I.V. and AIDS stood by their 61-page report, written in 2003, that found that the infections of the Libyan children had resulted from an intentional act.
A Libyan court is expected to deliver a verdict on Dec. 19.
The six medical workers, who have protested their innocence and said their confessions were made under torture, arrived in Libya in March 1998. They have been detained since 1999.
The international team of scientists, whose findings were published online Wednesday by the journal Nature, analyzed the genetic code of H.I.V. and hepatitis C viruses from the children to determine when the outbreaks started. ?All of them give a date for the start of the epidemic around the mid-1990s,? Dr. de Oliveira said.
He added that a team of 10 specialists from around the world who reviewed the research concluded that the results were ?extremely solid.?
The medical workers were sentenced to death by firing squad after being convicted in a trial in 2004. The verdict was quashed last year by Libya?s Supreme Court, and the case was sent to a lower court.
In an open letter to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, published last month in Nature, more than 100 Nobel laureates in the sciences called for a fair trial for the medical workers.
News date: 2006-12-07
Assessment of automated genotyping protocols as tools for surveillance of HIV-1 genetic diversity. Gifford R, de Oliveira T, Rambaut A, Myers RE, Gale CV, Dunn D, Shafer R, Vandamme AM, Kellam P, Pillay D; UK Collaborative Group on HIV Drug Resistance, AIDS (2006), 20(11):1521-9.