Tripoli Six: Home and Free


It’s over in Libya. Nick previously blogged about the Tripoli Six: a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses, working in Libya, who were accused of infecting hundreds of children with HIV. The group have been imprisoned since 1999–despite the fact that an analysis of the HIV isolates from the children confirmed that the epidemic began before the medical workers arrived in the country (and continued even after they were jailed). After a long battle, mostly legal and political rather than scientific, they’ve been freed and sent back to Bulgaria. More on the story at the BBC and the New York Times.

I should note that though the science ultimately wasn’t the determining factor in their release, the science blogosphere and Nature (with journalist/blogger Declan Butler leading the charge) were important in keeping this prominent in the scientific community. And while we celebrate their freedom, there are still hundreds of HIV-infected children in Libya, and grieving parents who missed out on justice in this case.


What’s appalling (I mean new – the whole affair has been appalling for the past eight years) is the number of confused, ignorant, bigotted or just plain stupid people commenting on the BBC site who are under the impression that the T6 are guilty, or maybe guilty, or anything except obvious victims of a corrupt regime. There’s a fair amount of anti-Western sentiment on display, which is justified to a certain extent – but this particular situation is the wrong target for that anger.

It is obvious that Libya has a problem with blood borne infectious disease control and sterility in their health care system. It is also obvious that their health care system is rudimentary and backward. If they are spreading HIV, they are spreading hepatitis B and C and any number of pathogens.

This is simple basic stuff. Don’t reuse needles. Autoclaves work. Disinfectants work. Screen the blood and plasma supply exhaustively.

What is the probability that anyone will volunteer to help the Libyan medical system join the 21st century? About zero. They have bitten the hand that tried to feed them.

wow i thought theyd never be freed, thank God (and the scientific community)

I wonder what God has to do with it and why should we thank him. He/She/It didn’t save the children!

What bugs me is, Libya may be backwards and corrupt but they presumably aren’t all stupid. OK, they needed a scapegoat for the HIV epidemic their poor practices had caused, I can see that. But *someone* must have understood that no matter how many medical personnel they executed, the HIV epidemic wasn’t going to go away until they put some real money into their facilities. And that a bunch of that money needed to be spent hiring people who really know what they’re doing. And that jailing and threatening to kill the few who DO know what they’re doing is going to make decent health care even more expensive.

My best guess is that decent money for decent hospitals and staff is actually being allocated, but that some high political Libyan mucky-muck is pocketing it, and this is how they chose not to go there.

Flint Wrote:

OK, they needed a scapegoat for the HIV epidemic their poor practices had caused, I can see that.

AFAIK they were gunning for more. I believe the extortion result included money, even outside of family support to the sufferers. And spiriting away many or all of the currently sick kids to over nations hospitals, so they will disappear both from public sight and the government bill.

Short term, they have mostly erased a self-made problem. (Unless they can’t contain the HIV epidemic, in which case their pigeons may come home to roost.)

Long term, well, politicians can’t think that far.

There is a popular exhibit titled “Rediscovering Islamic Science” which is presently making its North American debut at the newly renovated and widely acclaimed Liberty Science Center, here in New Jersey. Both the science center and the exhibit seem to have the impramatur and endorsement of the scientific establishment. Schools from all over the surrounding states are visiting in droves. I certainly have heard no voices raised in opposition to this exhibit, which touts the acievements of “islamic science” between 700 and 1700.

The exhibit is objectionable, to my mind, for many reasons and I cannot understand why the scientific community, which is always justifiably ready and willing to defend against such abominations, has lost its voice in this case.

Consider the following:

First, there is no such thing as “islamic science”. This reminds me of the Nazi campaign to describe relativity as “jewish science”. We as scietists should find such concepts to be repugnant and reprehensible.

Second, the exhibit assumes that all Arabs of antiquity were Islamic. That is in fact not the case. If the founders of the exhibit were interested in restoring Arab pride in terms of their contributions to society, they should have been focused on “Arab science”.

Third, the vast majority of Arabs described in the exhibit were explorers, not scientists. It is as if they described Marco Polo as a scientists. That is stretching the term beyond all recognition. Explorers are not scientists. The few individuals in the exhibit that come close to doing work that can justifiably be described as science, such as Al Haytham who supposedly invented the pinhole camera, may or may not have been islamic and we know of no reason to connect their scientific efforts to their islamic beliefs.

Fourth, no amount of diverting attention from the sorry state of Arab science today, as represented by the Libyan affair with the nurses, will succeed in covering up the enormous negative impact that Islam has on the pathetic state of science education and lack of achievement on the the part of the billion plus Muslims around the world.

Fifth, it is a shame that a great science institution such as the Liberty Science Center is being politicized in this abominable way for dubious and misplaced motives. And the fact that the scientific community remains silent only adds insult to injury.

Imprimatur and endorsement of the scientific establishment? Yee-haw! Count me in, whatever strawman you’re erecting!

if the Libyans in any way inferred that it was a crime against Allah or that justice to Islam must be met. then it is another great insult to true Islamics and Allah. also they made such a big deal about retribution to the families, i doubt very much that any of the people who are infected or who’s family member is infected will see one cent of that money. it was just a big political ploy to extort money for the greedy people that run the country. i can only hope that the god of us all. is totally disgusted with them.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on July 24, 2007 4:10 PM.

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