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Libyan Writer Ghoma

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Tuesday, 31 October, 2006

THE AIDS TRIAL: A Travesty of Justice!

By: Ghoma

        In an atmosphere of loaded charges and raised tensions, the truth and justice with it become entangled in what the prosecuting side calls a trial and what the prosecuted party would insist on being a kangaroo court and a mere showcase of witch-hunting. The AIDS case is one of those histrionics where the accused, even of they'd committed the crime, their guilt is shared equally, if not more so, with the prosecuting side. For the government cannot pretend to be a stranger to the whole situation when, at least morally, was part and parcel to the crime , if not in actual fact can be considered to have aided and abetted the undertaking of such horrible acts by tolerating, if not creating, an environment where they could occur. And what makes the case even more bizarre is the absence, among the indicted, of any local citizens, which would make the 'Trial' less an attempt to find the real culpable(s) but more to whitewash an embarrassing neglect. Among all the possible characterizations that are apt to describe the situation, the more pertinent, and thus realistic would be: Goliath after David, or scapegoating!

        As the second Trial of the 5-Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor, accused of infecting 426 children at the Children Hospital in Benghazi with the Aids virus, is coming to a conclusion one wonders loud what's the deal about? Why the 'Trial' has been dragging for so long without apparent new evidence or fresh input? Is it really to find the culpable and make an example of them? Or only to find a face-saving device to absolve the system, the regime, from its utter negligence and pure dereliction of duty, if not direct guilt if you will, of not having foreseen the occurrence of such acts and taken enough precautions to prevent them. Indeed the blunders of this regime are aplenty, and go further than the ones which had made the headlines so far, to engulf every detail in the miserable Libyan life. If public health and hygiene came to the fore was only because the blither of ideology couldn't be made fast enough to hide the negligence, malpractice, dirt, many other causes of diseases, and their consequent suffering. No matter what the regime does with the unfortunate accused, it still has to face the piper and come with a plan to clean the mess created by 37-years of neglect and mismanagement in the health sector.

        Dictators do desperate things when they run out of steam, so to speak, or find themselves cornered. History is sputtered with the likes of Wolf Larson ( unscrupulous and cruel character in Jack London's novel, The Sea Wolf) of cruel men, whose plots, conceits, and plain stupid acts of revenge had lead to catastrophic results. In their restrictive imagination, shortsightedness is never a vice but only a way to cope with the contingent, tomorrow is always another! Thus one can describe Qaddafi's many eccentrics but most importantly to mention the ones that have caused great damages to the country in terms of well-being and reputation: the Lockerbie's scandal and the currently gathering clouds for another potential fiasco: the still going on AIDS Trial. This case is more than any other disastrous action the regime had embarked on is bound to cut deep into the quick and bone of what Libya and Libyans are all about. Their values and moral fibre are at stake! Unfortunately for the regime, call it again the laws of unintended consequences, this is going to backfire and perhaps hurt the country even worse than what preceded it. If so far the 'Trial' has not exploded in its full bloom it's because it has been kept relatively under control and lock away from public opinion by restricting it to pure criminal prosecution. Perhaps, it's the failure of the defense lawyers not to pursue the full extent of its ramifications: as for instance the dismal conditions of public hygiene and health's awareness in the whole country, the lack of standards by which health providers are chosen and contracted, the language(s) in use, the manners and ways these professionals must conduct themselves and take care of their patients, the carelessness in general rampant among the health providers, the laxness of the rules -if they ever existed- and the utter lack of awareness about the consequences of their negligence, etc. Such a confusion has created an environment of backwood's mentality where all is permissible, nobody cares! For, contracting with doctors and nurses from around the world, in the absence of common language to communicate among them and between them and the public at large made Libya hospitals a virtual shambles and deathtraps and the whole country more akin to that mythical Tower of Babel jumble than a modern version of Shangri-la where cosmopolitanism is sought after, appreciated, if not sublimated.

        At this point, in the Trial, the evidence is still murkier than ever and the truth has yet to come out. Not many knew what took place. What were the causes of the infections: intentional injections or blood and instruments's contaminations? The system has opted for the easier way out, accusing some vulnerable guest workers of being part of an intricate diabolical plot only God and the alleged plotters know whether it'd ever occurred to anyone except those who habitually see ghosts where only shadows could be seen - fertile grounds for the spinmeisters and truth fabricators to practice the art of imagining even if stretching the truth a bit! For it's relatively easier to washout individual and collective guilt by blaming few foreigners for what everyone of us sees as part and parcel of the national ethos: filth and carelessness, negligence and dereliction, laziness and ignorance. For those who may see this as exaggeration or get offended by lumping a whole country under a broad brush of one rubric, let them take a walk anywhere they like in the big Sandbox or visit a public latrine anywhere from Mu'ammer's own -perhaps an exception!- down to any mosque's johnny!

        Anyone who's been following even casually the proceedings of the trial must have noticed by now that it's come to resemble one of those so-called 'monkey trials' where ignorance, prejudice, and charged emotions are battling against science and reason. The publicity surrounding the Trial and its projections outside the borders have reached the attention of big players in the international arena throwing their weight mostly against the government's case. The theatrics of it comes close to the carnival atmosphere that usually surrounds and accompanies any trial where highly charged victims were made to look more as scapegoats than real criminals. What made it even more bizarre was the charge by the big Kahuna himself -then of course was taken up by the court- when he made the claim that the accused were part of a vicious, pernicious, an must be complicated international plot (woven in collaboration between the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad) against the regime! While no sane mortal will dismiss anything in this world of ours where ethical conduct and moral standards are kept askance and considered passe mere weapons of the weak; and while it's true also that intelligence services just as God work in mysterious and sometimes peculiar ways, one must ask: first, if infecting children with the HIV virus can be chosen to do any harm to a well-entrenched regime like the one in Libya; and second, if such a dangerous weapon can be entrusted to be handled and used by the likes of the blockheads spooky and drifter types that usually populate such agencies. So far, none of the plots involving the use of the bio-chemical brews attributed to the spooks has stuck. This maybe another of the erratic fantasies so dear to fertile yet sickly imaginations of Third World disgruntled pansies.

        Most probably than not, the causes were what the respected scientists and physicians have been pointing out all along in their filed reports and solicited testimonies: the tragic and dismal conditions of anything to do with healthcare and public hygiene in the deathtrap wardens misnomered as hospital. To illustrate this point and bring the remarks to the ground I'll recollect some casual observations I'd the opportunity to see with my own eyes happening in some of the biggest 'hospitals' in the heavenly kingdom of the Sirtawi(s). Though these observations go back to the mid-eighties, the passing of time, I still think, has not brought any positive changes, actually has worsened the conditions further as can be determined by the utter lack of even simple medical procedures or common drugs in the country and inferred from Libyan patients swarming the neighboring countries hospitals and doctors sometimes for the silliest of reasons!

        I've, as I'm sure every Libyan has, witnessed on visiting hospitals how appalling were the conditions in which they're maintained. Every time I happened to be in one of these wretched warehouses I got sick myself and felt on the spot what the vagaries of life an the vicissitude of time can bring to the fragility of health and the vulnerability of all well-being in Third World, but in particular the banality of life itself. The atmosphere of these hellish places were full of grime, crowdedness, moanings and groanings, and charged with the fetid smell of medicine and even of death akin to suffocating traps rather than healing centers. On entering one of these places the doom and gloom are the only things greeting people instead of the hope. Nay, the hospitals I saw reminded me less of health and well-being and more of death and its consequences. They're the terrestrial equivalents to what Dante must have seen on his subterranean journey through the land of the beyond and its seven layers of Hell.

        One time I went to visit a doctor, an old friend of mine, in his clinic at the Central Hospital in Tripoli. On walking through the building towards his office I noticed how much dirt, dust, grime, disrepair, not to mention the absence of any signs of order or personnel to ask for directions, etc. After the usual greetings and howdies, soon the conversation drifted to the general malaise and complaints about how everything is falling apart. He gave me a tour of the facility and showed me some of the machines and tools they use and the state in which they're kept - under at least half-inch of dust- judging from their appearance I'd not expect any of them to work. We walked out the hospital for a cup of coffee or tea and on our way back we ran into a ruckus on the ground floor where we saw water running down the stairs. Upon looking upon we saw, what my friend immediately introduced as the head of his department. The respected chief was furious, fulminating curses and the froth was sputtering all over out of his mouth, shouting in staccato: now you've to dry and clean the floor, it's our face to the outside world, I'm tired seeing so much dirt, etc.

        On another occasion an old friend of mine came to ask me if I go with him to see the doctor of his wife, in a public hospital, to try to understand what's wrong with her. The physician was from some East European country, who spoke none of the two or three Western European languages I could put myself to decipher. Unfortunately the doctor spoke none of the ones I could make sense of, he seemed to speak only his native language and nothing else! For he kept repeating the same word in Arabic "blood" and we couldn't get into him to go further a bit and to explain what's wrong with the blood.

        These two examples are only samples of what I'm sure other Libyans have by the bushels, of the nightmare in absence of better and more apt term, is still called health-care in Libya, and which consisted of decrepit buildings, dirt by abundance, broken machines, and doctors who spoke no Arabic.... Let's be realistic, it must be frustrating also for these health providers, who're forced by their circumstances to seek work in such unusual and forsaken places on this earth. They must have been in a position far worse than the veterinarian doctors are, since at least in the case of these latter a human usually accompanied the animal and thus would describe some of the symptoms noticed. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they must be going through by not understanding the patient feels or the rest of the mess around him/her. Only punishing circumstances would push people to go to such length and tolerate such an environment. If you add the risk of whenever something goes amiss, since most of the locals would have their excuses always ready, they get blamed for, Polaski or Rosina, who cares about them, stick to them and let them have it, after all they've left their countries for the sake of few lousy dollars!

        Has the regime put itself between a rock and a hard surface as the cliche goes or just another glitch, an usual wrinkle that would pass? Some malaise if not sweating must be felt by the regime's keepers nowadays and some scratching of the heads on how to get out of the jam and save the day must be keeping some of them from sleeping! Signs of that can seen in sending these kids and their families outside the country seeking help, after almost a decade from the infection. Is 't a case of the regime coming to its senses a little bit too late and in clumsy if not sloppy way or just quirky way to placate the victims and thus pave the way for a settlement of the issue? Otherwise, why wait all this time to seek a cure for the infected kids? Why wait all this time -to this minute nothing seems to have been done in the area of AIDS, as, for instance, establishing AIDS sections in the hospitals, giving training courses and seminars to the medical personnel, mounting campaigns of public education and awareness about this horrible virus, and not to forget importing whatever drugs on the market to combat it. [ AIDS virus, unlike many other diseases which can be intervened on surgically or medically, HIV virus is a chronic infection and the patient must be made to cope with it for the rest of his/her life. So sending the infected children to Europe doesn't do them any good unless to stay there for good!].

        Kafka had written a novel entitled appropriately pertinent to our case: "The Trial," in which the accused has no idea what he's prosecuted for nor by whom or according to what procedures only to end in a foggy way as a case of what Big Brother, with unchecked powers, can do. The AIDS Trial looks more and more and more Kafka-esque, a case where sweeping the dirt under the rug is to be carried on at the expense of vulnerable individuals whose only apparent mistake was to have trusted in the decency of human morals, no matter where, and tried to make a living and practice their crafts wherever they're given a chance. One expects and hopes that neither the Palestinian doctor nor the Bulgarian nurses would have betrayed their Hippocratic Oath -of do no harm- and turned their profession from its original mission of healing to something as terrible as infecting children with the HIV Virus. Certainly something amiss has happened on the watches of these individuals, in the worst cases scenario, they may be accused of malpractice and negligence, that's, of not making sure anything they used was in conformity to the norms of health and hygiene universally followed , or if that was not possible to have refused to practice until the minimum standards were restored. Malpractice cases occur frequently and the wrongdoers were brought to prosecution to the full extent of the law, taking into consideration the mitigating circumstances and whether or not the misdeed(s) was intentional or out of dereliction of duty and negligence. Such cases usually end with suspension from practice, penalty payments, and/or imprisonment for a certain period of time; but, I've never heard of any case that has ended in death penalty, even in a country like the USA where capital punishment is almost a daily routine!

        How the matter should be handled? Well, since the die has not been cast yet, the best way for court, there's still time to come to its senses, and make a case for justice, that's, let the accused go -they've already served enough for their part of what'd happened. The verdict should point the way to where the guilt must be looked for: the regime as the guardian to the health and safety of the public, and indeed the whole country. A collective guilt of carelessness and shirking one's duty first of the health providers, and then for the rest of the public: in tolarating dirt and by depending on others to do what one must do for him/herself. In sum a guilt of once again being passive consumers even in health matters where the individual is the first line of defense.


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