We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The "unfairity" of charity, part 1

I don't talk about it much, but I spent some time in Africa (Uganda) a few years back. I ran a clinic there, and we saved a lot of lives. At that time, what passed for "medicine" in much of sub-Saharan Africa was appalling. Even on a shoestring budget and using ordinary things like hydrogen peroxide, we worked near-miracles. Not that it did much good in the grand scope of the medical malaise on the Dark Continent... Beyond this, I barely got out of there with my life.

Such are the rewards of attempting to help those who will not help themselves by overthrowing their ineffectual leadership. Conditions were so bad that I routinely ran the risk of infection myself - and some of the African governments are so corrupt that your fate literally depends on the momentary whims of individual officials. Those, like myself, who go there to practice "charity medicine" sometimes don't come back. I was one of the lucky ones. I mention all of this today because of a sobering expose` I read in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. It's about a group of 6 medical professionals from other countries - 5 nurses from Bulgaria and a Palestinian doctor - who've languished in a Libyan prison for 8 YEARS...

According to the Libyan government, they're being held for allegedly intentionally infecting more than 400 children with the AIDS virus at a Benghazi Children's hospital in 1998. Sentenced to death for this obviously trumped-up crime in 2004, these 6 souls cling to life under the slim hope that a final appeal scheduled for December 19th, 2006 (the very day I'm writing this), might grant them a reprieve - or rather, some actual justice. This appeal is only happening because of a growing international protest against the Libyans government's treatment of these folks...

Now, aside from the obvious fact that it would take a nearly inconceivable set of circumstances to get 6 medical professionals - one of them a doctor who's no doubt bound by some kind of equivalent to the Hippocratic oath - to enter into a conspiracy of mass murder against the very children they journeyed so far and sacrificed so much to help, there's this: There isn't even any EVIDENCE linking them to the outbreak!

According to the Journal article, a team of international experts (including some from the World Health Organization) have scrutinized what evidence the Libyan government will allow them to: Things like patient charts, virus and blood samples, and hospital procedures... Their conclusion: Without doubt, the 1998 HIV outbreak at Al-Fateh Children's Hospital stems from the reuse of contaminated medical equipment by dollar-a-day care workers - NOT intentional infection by what were likely the only medically educated staff on hand.

Among their findings: * The particular strain of HIV virus that infects most of the 400 kids in question was rampant in the hospital BEFORE the now-imprisoned aid workers arrived * The hospital has a provably horrid sanitation and infection record - most of the 400 children were co-infected with Hepatitis C because of their stay in Al-Fateh * Syringes, surgical tubing, and other equipment relating to the injection of blood products were routinely used on multiple patients without sterilization * Infusions of unscreened-for-HIV albumin were commonly administered to children through this equipment during the time of the aid workers tenure

Apparently, none of this hard evidence matters to the Libyan court system. Nor does the letter of protest about the violation of these aid workers' human rights submitted to Libya by a panel of 100 Nobel Laureates! Why? Because holding these workers isn't about justice. I'll tell you what it IS about in the next Daily Dose...

Exposing the beware-ity of charity,
William Campbell Douglass II, M.D.

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