CRITICAL: Health system collapsing in Libya

Many public hospitals close, foreign medical staff flee the country due to the ongoing political conflict

Friday, April 29, 2016 — Dear Media colleagues,

We would like to alert you to the critical state of Libya’s health system, which has been severely strained by the ongoing political conflict, and is facing critical shortages of drugs and medical equipment, as well as medical staff to work in public hospitals.

Before the late Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, Libya had a modern, functional health system. However, the health workforce was mostly comprised of foreign workers, in particular nurses, most of whom have since fled the country while the remaining Libyan doctors have largely abandoned the ailing infrastructure.

Not only has the political crisis posed a serious threat to health, but the economy has also collapsed leaving the Libyans bearing the brunt of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

FIRST PERSON TESTIMONY: Australian nurse, Colin Watson recently returned from a three-month assignment in Libya.

WRITTEN INTERVIEW: Dr. Mego Terzian, MSF France President recently visited Libya where he witnessed the collapsing health system as three governments compete.

Background to the Libyan conflict

The uprising against the late President of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi and his subsequent overthrow in October 2011 was followed by a resurgence of violence, and in 2014, civil war broke out in Libya. Two camps, each with its own government, are involved in a power struggle – in the east, the “national Libyan army” commanded by General Haftar that is affiliated to the Tobruk Parliament, and in the west, Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), a coalition of Islamist forces and groups coming from the trading capital, Misrata. Its Tripoli-based government controls most of the regions in the west. Thriving on this division, so-called Islamic State has taken Sirte and established a foothold in Benghazi and several other towns.

Heavy fighting that intermittently opposes various armed groups across the country is an almost daily occurrence in Benghazi and Derna, while the south is also the scene of clashes between ethnic groups. Meanwhile, the US, UK, France and Italy are carrying out covert armed operations to combat Islamic State.

To prevent the country dividing into two, the United Nations initiated negotiations that resulted in December in an agreement on the setting up of a government of national accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj.  On 12 March, Al-Sarraj called on all of Libya’s institutions to rally behind him but was met with opposition from the prime minister of the Tripoli-based government that is not recognised by the international community. The government of national accord has still not been sworn in by the parliament in Tobruk, which is yet another obstacle to reconciliation.

MSF began working in Misrata, Libya in 2011 where the medical teams treated the wounded and offered mental health services and later extended its medical services to Tripoli and Benghazi in 2013. MSF returned to Libya in 2015 to increase inpatient capacity and treatment of casualties in Al Qubbah hospital, a town in the east near the frontline. MSF has been donating drugs to several hospitals in Benghazi, Al-Abyar, El Marj and Misrata and has started training nurses on the treatment of casualties in emergency rooms and operating theatres in Zuwara, Al-Abyar and Misrata

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Best regards,

Angela & Kate

Zuwara, April 19, 2016. In the polyclinic Jedi Ibrahim, located in the old town. Rahaf, 5, during a visit in the paediatric service of Jedi Ibrahim clinic with her mother. Here in the pahamacy, with Tmomin, pharmacist. Photographer: Samuel Gratacap
In front of the entrance of Moritime Hospital where MSF is donating medicine. Photographer: Samuel Gratacap
Moritim Hospital in Zuwara receiving medicine donations from MSF. Photographer: Samuel Gratacap