Go read Effect Measure on the recent events in the case of the Tripoli Six. This is the story of a team of health care workers who were blamed for an outbreak of HIV among young patients at a Libyan hospital—they’ve been tried in a kangaroo court and face very unpleasant prospects.
Now, in a powerful reply to the Libyan accusations, Nature has published the results of a detailed analysis of the viruses afflicting the children, and the story is clear: the cause of the outbreak was the poor hygiene present at the hospital before the six workers arrived. Here are the major conclusions of the paper:
In 1998, outbreaks of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection were reported in children attending Al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. Here we use molecular phylogenetic techniques to analyse new virus sequences from these outbreaks. We find that the HIV-1 and HCV strains were already circulating and prevalent in this hospital and its environs before the arrival in March 1998 of the foreign medical staff (five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor) who stand accused of transmitting the HIV strain to the children.
The strains present were also traceable to North Africa and at least one was prevalent in Egypt. They also found that the timing was off: the outbreak had begun before the workers had arrived.
We found that, irrespective of which model was used, the estimated date of the most common recent ancestor for each cluster pre-dated March 1998, sometimes by many years. In most analyses, the probability that the clusters from the Al-Fateh Hospital originated after that time was almost zero. For the three HCV clusters, the percentage of lineages already present before March 1998 was about 70%; the equivalent percentage for the HIV-1 cluster was estimated at about 40%.
Apparently, the scientific evidence which would have exonerated the accused was not allowed in the court. The Gaddafi government continues to live up to its reputation.