GENEVA (Reuters) - Tripoli’s hospitals have put the worst behind them after an end to the fighting in Libya’s capital opened the way to a flood of aid and enabled medical staff to get back to work, aid agencies said on Monday.
In a rapid return to normality, even the notorious Abu Salim hospital, where 75 bodies were found after staff fled fighting in the area, is welcoming patients once again.
“This hospital has just reopened yesterday and it’s beginning to function. It was cleaned up and everything is supposed to be in place now,” said Robin Waudo, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tripoli.
Last week agencies such as the ICRC, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the World Health Organisation said outside help needed to get into the city urgently to avoid a disaster, but it was too dangerous to venture onto Tripoli’s streets.
“The worst has been avoided,” said Oifa Bouriachi, deputy programme manager for emergencies at Medecins Sans Frontieres. “The situation is amazingly, and quickly, improving.”
Waudo said the security situation was evolving and normalising as most of the city was now free of fighting.
“So what we see are more and more people coming out on to the streets. Shops are opening up and it’s slowly possible for life to return to some sort of normalcy.”
Although the violence in Tripoli has not completely ended, the relative peace has reassured aid agencies that they can now get into the capital, rescuing stranded foreigners and resupplying hospitals and relieving exhausted medical staff.
The World Food Programme has sent a humanitarian convoy of trucks from Tunisia, with medical supplies, medicine and blood donated by the government of Tunisia. The convoy includes 23 trucks carrying 500 tonnes of food and five water tankers.
A World Health Organization was sending 45 tonnes of medical supplies as part of the same effort, a spokesman said, and supplies from MSF may add a further 10 tonnes in the next few days.
Although the airport is still closed, Tripoli’s sea port is open, allowing aid to come in and evacuees to get out.
Two ships chartered by the International Organization for Migration have picked up about 1,100 evacuees, including foreign migrant workers and displaced Libyans, and another has taken 55 people to Malta.
The effort to bring foreign aid is continuing despite the revelation last week that rebel fighters had found massive stores of food, fuel and medicine in Tripoli.
National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil last week said the stockpiles had enough food to feed a city twice its size — its population is 2 million — and enough medicine for the entire country for a year.
But the United Nations and aid agencies said they had no information about this stockpile and no knowledge that the rebels had cracked the stash open to help relieve the capital. They said they had heard about it through the media.
However, even if it contained large quantities of supplies, the current situation calls for specific items — surgical materials, external fixators to set bones broken by bullets, oxygen, and drugs for chronic diseases, 95 percent of which were imported in the Gaddafi years.
Bouriachi said psychological support was also required, since the fighting had also caused a lot of trauma, including among hospital staff who had been pushed to the limit.
And as the healthcare system returns to normal, there will be a big backlog of cases unrelated to the fighting, she said.
“During these five days all the medical structures have been coping with urgent cases. All the non-urgent cases have been put aside,” she said.