Report from HEAL London
08 June 2006
HEAL London has started slowly but enthusiastically, with an emphasis on being more ‘activist’ than other current dissident AIDS organisation in the UK.
Apart from two educational and social meetings so far (one before the adoption of the HEAL mantle) and several discussions between the three founders, one bit of patient advocacy has taken place so far, and that is to accompany one of the members to get re-tested, several years after her original diagnosis. She was also wired for sound in case the recording of her challenges to the health advisor proved usable, but though interesting, for both technical reasons and others they weren’t really usable for any other purpose. At the time of writing the outcome of the new test isn’t known, but she has stated that if this one is negative she’ll sue over the false diagnosis the first time round. If this eventuality comes to pass, it will be a case pursued with unrelenting vigour by HEAL London.
I have also been following up the Libyan case of the foreign medics jailed and originally given the deaths sentence for allegedly infecting hundreds of children with HIV through deliberately contaminated vaccinations. You may be aware that this case has just started up again, with the original conviction and death sentence quashed and a re-trial commencing because of acknowledged ‘irregularities’ (ie, their confessions were tortured out of them but now Colonel Gadaffi wants to make peace with the west). This case is absolutely loaded with political overtones, but also represents one of the best opportunities from the perspective of public willingness to listen to alternative models of what actually occurred. As the majority of the medics are Bulgarian, it occurred to me to try the Bulgarian embassy. I eventually got through to someone who was surprised and very interested and who even suggested possibly doing a presentation at the Bulgarian embassy, and responded with gratitude to the long and comprehensive email I sent him, specifically focussing on the facts of that case with plenty of supporting references.
With no further response I decided the only way was to contact the defence lawyer directly, Othman Al-Bezenti. Eventually, after many dead ends the route that worked was to ring up law firms in Libya at random from the internet and hope that one would be both willing and able to put me in touch. I was eventually given his number and spoke to him directly, who was both staggered at what I said, grateful and keen for some more information, which I sent him via his son (who does the email). I received confirmation of receipt over a week ago (he was abroad for nearly one week of that) and have not had further correspondence since, but I have written to inform him that Mohammed Al-Bayati has said he is willing to comment on the probable real causes of death of the 50 children that have died. His office is not always manned when I ring and I haven’t had subsequent feedback yet.
I also pointed out to him that this information would also be of value to the lawyer representing the families of the children infected, to help avoid the children being given toxic treatment for a falsely-diagnosed virus, and would enable them both to join forces against a common enemy as it were. I have not been able to get in contact with the lawyer representing the families so far.
It seems to me that both for the relatively high profile of the case (both George Bush and Condoleeza Rice have said that the foreign medics should be released) and the public’s perspectives of the ‘morals’ of the case, this currently represents one of the best opportunities for upsetting the apple cart, so it seems worthwhile considering either additional approaches that could be made or advice on the best way to handle it. Feedback or requests for more information willing received.
More activism and meetings planned soon.