The fathers' stories originally appeared in a feature article by Idris al-Mismari and Faraj al-'Arabi on AIDS cases among Benghazi children., published in Laa Magazine, Issue No. 78, November 1998, pp. 18-21 [in Arabic.] Laa is a monthly magazine published by the Association of Writers and Literaries, Tripoli, Libya.
The Fathers Speak About Their Children's Cases: How were our children infected with this virus?
More than one father came to the Magazine offices after they learned
of our interest in this subject, and it behooved us to record their statements
and list their cases as they lived them. One cried very emotionally, another
confused about how to describe the case, and yet another not believing
he would lose his son. They mentioned their names and their children's
names, not at all inconvenienced [embarrassed] by the mention of their
names. However, we saw to present the cases without the names, and it is
up to the reader to infer. These represent only a fraction of many cases.
The father has just arrived from the cemetery, after burying his son, some of the grave soil on his shoe. He was angry, yet spoke calmly, "My son was born on 15 June 1998, a natural birth. Twenty days later, he developed chest problems, so we took him to "the Children's Hospital", where he stayed for about 13 days under care, then was [discharged] without improvement. We returned to the same hospital in August, when he was diagnosed with allergic obstruction of the airways. He was hospitalized for about 10 days only to be discharged in the same conditions as when he was admitted. We then took him to a specialist who recommended "the Children's Hospital". He was admitted on the 24th and discharged on the 30th of September, 1998. We heard a lot of talk about AIDS in this hospital. After leaving the hospital, we took him to a folk doctor who performed a tonsils removal operation on him, and he lost a lot of blood. A father came and told me that my son was on the list of children infected with AIDS, one of 42 cases. A doctor at the hospital told me there was suspicion. However, a clinical laboratory specialist assured me that my son was actually infected with AIDS, no suspicion, and that we should be careful with him."
Then the father spoke with a cracked voice about his son's death the previous night, 11 Oct. 98, and that he had not yet taken any action because he had just come back from the funeral.
A simple citizen from an Arab country, his problem is not just with his son, but also with his niece and his sister-in-law. The mother had breast-fed her daughter, despite having cracked nipples. This father spoke about his son who was born May 5th 98. In July the child developed chest problems, and after visiting various clinics, he was taken to the Children Hospital, where he remained for one week, was transferred to various departments of the hospital, and showed no improvement. He was taken back to the Hospital in September, and this time blood samples were taken from him and his mother, but the father was told nothing. The father adds angrily, "After 10 days in the Hospital, they admitted him to Intensive Care Unit, and then quarantined. When he came out of the quarantine, they put him on a bed, without bed sheets or covers, in the corridor with a syringe in his head. When I inquired about their plans for my son, they said they were going to quarantine him. Based on what I was previously told by one the health doctors I thought they were transferring my son to the Pulmonary Unit. However, the transfer papers, which I could not read, indicated the Department of Infectious Diseases. I asked the doctor about my son's condition, but she did not tell me anything. I went home, could not sleep, and returned the following day to make sure of my son's condition. The doctor told me, "Lives are in the hand of Allah." [a phrase typically offered as condolence.] Another doctor told me, "After testing in Benghazi, Tripoli and Cairo, we found that your son has AIDS." Then, they tested me and my wife, and the results were negative."
Laa: This father has to deal with not only with his son's problem, but also with the fact that his brother's daughter and wife are all infected. In other words, an entire family is infected with AIDS. The brother is now suffering from a severe depression and he refuses to be tested for fear of [confirming his] infection.
This was also a simple father, who spoke about the thrill of his son's birth on the 20th of June 1998. Near the end of July 98, the infant developed fever and was taken to the Children Hospital, where he remained for about one month. Then, after a short period at home, he was taken back to the Hospital and remained there until 15 Sept. 98. During this period, he had several blood and urine tests, and according to the doctors, the results were good. The father says, " We learned of the existence of AIDS cases at the Hospital. But they told me that my son had an enlarged liver, then they said bacteria in the blood, then bacteria in the stool, and then they quarantined him and told me it was just an ordinary ailment. No one told me he had AIDS. In early October, they took samples from him and his mother, to be tested in Egypt. My neighbor is a nurse at the Blood Bank, and she told me that my son probably had AIDS, as his name came on the list of the positive cases, even though the Hospital did not inform me. Then they obtained a blood sample from me and tested it, and despite that, they still did not inform me of my son's AIDS infection. One of my relatives who works at the Hospital told me that my son is suspected of having AIDS. When my son left the Hospital, the discharge report indicated that he had AIDS."
Laa: This case needs no comment.
The child is one and a half years old, born on 4 April 97. The father knew nothing. He returned from work and found his son with a fever. Naturally he took him to a clinic, where he referred to the Children Hospital. There, they told him his son had pneumonia and the child was admitted and stayed in the Hospital for over 10 days. On the last admission, the father was told that his son had "diseased lymph nodes", then enlargement of the liver and the pancreas. The puzzled father, who knew of no diagnosis for his son, spoke to us in state of confusion: "My cousin works at the Children Research Department, and she told me my son needed to go to the Hospital on Thursday. When they told me it was necessary to test my wife and me, I knew my son's disease was AIDS. I had known this disease only infected adults, not children (the first time it appeared among children in Libya.)
I was not informed, even though my son's name was on the list of more than 45 cases, officially discovered."
Laa: This father, among others, was not informed by the Hospital, but learned from others.
My son got ill and had muscular spasms. On the morning of 1 August 98, we took him to the Children's Hospital, where he was admitted and I was told he had a calcium deficiency. They prescribed some medicine for him and when I took him home that day his condition worsened. I took him back to the hospital on August 17 where he stayed until Sept 2nd 98. His condition became worse, so I took him back on Sept 30, when they told me he had an enlarged liver. He remained in the Hospital until they asked me to take him home on 19 October 1998. No one at the Hospital told me about his condition or the nature of his illness. They handed me the discharge paper, which was written in English, a language I do not understand. The clerk at the information desk asked me to return in one week, but she too failed to tell me about the nature of my son's illness or what was written in the discharge report. On this paper, which I still have, it was written that my son was infected with the AIDS virus. I did not know this until I returned, after a few days, because of my son's worsening condition. There, I accidentally met a person with another patient on a return visit, who read my son's discharge paper and told me he was infected with AIDS. That person also thought it was strange that I was not told of my son's condition, even though the report was seen by the department doctor, who recommended that I see a committee from the World Health Organization that was in the Hospital that day. They took samples from my son and my wife, and when I asked about the reason for not telling me verbally about my son's disease, and about exploiting my ignorance of the English language to cover up the issue, I found no answer and no one in the Hospital appeared to care. The question that remains with me to this hour is what was meant by handing me my son infected (with AIDS) while intentionally not informing of that.
The child was born on 3 March 1998. She was quarantined because of jaundice and remained hospitalized for a month and a half, and her blood was replaced. This child was taken to the Children's Hospital four times, the last time on 14 September 1998. She resided in the unit of Pulmonary Medicine. On 24 September 98, her family was informed that she had HIV, based laboratory tests in Benghazi that were confirmed in Tripoli. From the start, the father was anxious to raise the issue with the authorities, until he reached the Attorney General. He says, "The Hospital administration asked us to be patient, and not to raise the issue in public circles until receiving samples that were sent for testing in a specialized laboratory in Cairo, which is one of the advanced laboratories in the Middle East. The tests returned, and all the cases were positive. They did not tell us what precautions to take, as if it were a simple condition. The "Child Health Administration" requested our presence on 22 October 98, to get samples from the child, the father and the mother, and we rejected their request for the following: First, they stand accused of infecting our children with this fatal disease. Second, samples had already been taken at Children's Hospital, and the results were negative. Third, we had tests at the Red Crescent's blood bank, and the results were negative for me and the mother."
We present this case to you based on the contents of a form issued by al-Fateh Hospital for Children's Medicine and Surgery.
Date: 4 November 1998
Patient's Name: .......
Age: 4 months
The above-mentioned child, who had a normal birth, was admitted to the hospital at the age of one week, due to neonatal jaundice. The child was admitted to hospital another time, suffering from gastroenteritis and in agony. He was treated with ampicillin and gentamicin. And the child was admitted for one day to the surgery department, for an operation to remove an abscess near the anus.
Tests revealed that the child is infected with the AIDS virus.
This report was given upon the request of the patient's father.
Signature, Dr. ...., Medical Affairs.
Seal of the al-Fateh Hospital for Children's Medicine and Surgery.
Perhaps this one is the strangest among the cases. In his lawsuit before the Attorney General, the father says, "I was blessed with twin girls on August 2nd 98, at the al-Jamahiriya Hospital. One of them developed severe fever, so I took her to the Children's Hospital for treatment on 3 Sep 1998. She remained at the Hospital for four hours, where they obtained a blood sample from her with difficulty. They attempted to insert the needle in her veins for almost one whole hour while she was screaming intensely. They tested her blood at the time and gave me the results, which were good, according to the documents and what they told me verbally. My daughter did not stay at the Hospital for more than four hours, and after that I did not take her back at all, until 20 October 1998. A social worker (named ....) came to our house and asked me to bring my daughter to the hospital for testing. She mentioned that my daughter was suspected of having viral hepatitis. My daughter was tested, and so were her mother and twin sister. Then they told us the results had not arrived from Egypt. I returned to the hospital on 3 November 1998, but they did not inform me of the results. Then the social worker contacted us by phone and told me with regret that the lab results confirm that my daughter is infected with AIDS. The question I put forth: Since her mother, her twin sister, and I are all free of the AIDS virus, who is responsible for giving this fatal virus to my daughter and when? She did not stay at the Children's Hospital except for four hours, and did not enter any other hospital or clinic.
I was blessed with a child on 30 August 1987, in other words he is 11 years old now. The child had leukemia since birth which required a bone-marrow transplant. We traveled to Austria on my private expenses in 1988, and after four months his medical treatment the Libyan government to cover the expense of the treatment, and it was decided to have the operation in Germany. Later, the Libyan Secretariat [Ministry] of Health refused to pay the equivalent of twenty-five thousand [US] dollars to the [German] hospital. After two months and as a result, I was forced by the German government to take my son back to al-Jamahiriya [Libya].
In 1992 I was summoned by the University Hospital in Austria because a new treatment had emerged. We were unable to treat the child, owing to the high expenses and to my inability to transfer the requisite funds, despite numerous attempts with the Libyan Central Bank and the Secretariat [Ministry] of Health. After his condition worsened, I took him repeatedly to the Children's Hospital. Last week, I learned from the doctors at the Hospital that my child is in the AIDS patients list. Also, I learned from a friend that my son is number 33 on the list.
There are other cases including those of a ten-year old girl and a five-year old boy. According to statements made by their fathers and other information we gathered, most of the infected children are 3 - 18 months old. We found it sufficient to present only samples of some of the cases, and we leave the question hanging: How were our children infected with this virus?