August 24, 2011 / 3:16 PM / 9 years ago

Libyan capital faces health disaster as aid held up

* Continued fighting in Tripoli blocks inflow of aid

* Dire shortages of food, water, blood for medical care

* Libyan hospital staff overwhelmed

By Tom Miles

GENEVA, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Conditions in Tripoli’s hospitals could become catastrophic without a rapid improvement in security in the Libyan capital, the emergency coordinator of aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters on Wednesday.

Medical supplies ran low during six months of civil war but have almost completely dried up in the siege and battle of the past week. Fuel supplies have run out and the few remaining medical workers are struggling to get to work.

“The situation is very tough and the movement is very restricted. The situation in medical structures at the moment is not good, it’s almost a catastrophe,” MSF’s Rosa Crestani said.

“There are clearly shortages of life-saving medication and equipment. There are no antibiotics and instruments for life-saving surgery.”

Crestani, who is based in Brussels but in close contact with MSF staff on the ground in Libya, said the most urgent cases included not just those wounded in the fighting, but also civilians such as women needing caesarian sections.

Hospital staff are overwhelmed and exhausted, she said.

Muftah Etwilb, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross in Benghazi, said he had spoken to the director of Tripoli Central Hospital who said he was appealing for his staff to come to work despite the security situation.

Restricted movement across the capital has exacerbated supply problems, Etwilb said, with Tripoli Central likely to run out of oxygen stocks within two or three days.

A rebel spokesman said all of Tripoli’s health facilities were suffering from shortages and urged doctors to return to work. “There is a real catastrophe here,” he said.


“Appeals were made yesterday in the streets and mosques for urgent help. There is also a dangerous shortage of blood at hospitals for the wounded ... and a shortage of foodstuffs. Drinking water is completely unavailable in some areas in Tripoli.”

Crestani said the items needed included dressing materials, external fixators for treating fractures, anaesthetics, antibiotics and tetanus vaccine, but also drugs for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Many cancer drugs had been out of stock for weeks or even months, Crestani said.

The shortage of fuel and electricity has also crippled hospitals’ ability to keep health services running.

“It’s a big problem to run ambulances and also some hospitals have been running on generators for the past few days and are really at the end of their capacity. This is really a major problem.”

MSF is just one of many international agencies ready to help Tripoli cope with the aftermath of the fighting. But it’s still not clear whether the “aftermath” has arrived.

The European Union said on Wednesday it had been preparing for months and was “geared up for the humanitarian challenge”, with an initial focus on war surgery and helping hospitals.

“We have prepositioned humanitarian stocks in the accessible zones of Libya and have coordinated all efforts with our humanitarian partners. We are ready,” Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said in a statement.

The Commission has allocated 80 million euros to respond to the Libyan conflict, including 10 million for assistance once Tripoli and the coastal cities opened up for delivery of relief. The Commission was in a position to deliver aid swiftly and efficiently, it said, without saying when this would start.

Crestani said MSF teams were on their way from Tunisia and she hoped to give the green light to deploy to Tripoli as soon as possible, and in a few days in the worst case.

“I really hope that it’s not weeks because that will be a real catastrophe.” Even in the best case scenario, it will take months to restore normality to the health care system, she said.

Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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