Tensions are rising in eastern Libya and medical needs are increasing in turn. Fighting in the region has now expanded beyond the city of Benghazi, which has been the scene of armed confrontations for more than a year, to Derna, the stronghold of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the area, where clashes started three weeks ago. This violence has strained the health care system and triggered population displacement, including more than 2,000 families who are now seeking sanctuary in Benghazi.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been present in Al-Bayda, in eastern Libya, for two months. In mid-June, the team began providing support to hospitals. Benghazi has seven major hospitals, but only three are still functioning. MSF provided 100 surgical kits for the treatment of wounded patients to Al-Jalah hospital, one of the three. After the fighting, many of the wounded were treated at Al-Jalah, and the hospital’s supplies were exhausted. MSF also donated drugs to a psychiatric hospital in Benghazi and to the Al-Marj general hospital, located between Benghazi and Al-Bayda.
“We had a lot of problems delivering all these drugs and medical supplies,” says Dr. Anne-Marie Pegg, MSF head of mission in Libya. “It was a challenge to find an airplane that transports freight to Libya. And then road transport is very dangerous because of the insecurity in both the east and the west.”
A Country Divided
More than four years after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya is divided into two camps, each with its own government. One is located in the west, in Tripoli, and the other in the east, in Tobruk. The country is also crisscrossed by many dividing lines, along which the IS has risen in power. Armed confrontations have intensified recently among IS forces around Derna (their stronghold in the east), Islamic factions, and the army of the Tobruk government.
To ensure that wounded patients in the Derna area can obtain treatment, MSF has worked to increase hospitalization and emergency treatment capacity at the Al-Qubbah health care center, located between Derna and Al-Bayda and close to the front line.
Fighting in the area has also driven the displaced to take refuge in Al-Qubbah, where the population has risen from 60,000 to 100,000 people. Pressures are rising on the health care system, which was already weakened by the country’s division. In the east, hospitals and public clinics rely on the Ministry of Health of the Tobruk government, which was established just a year ago and lacks resources.
MSF has worked in Libya several times, first in 2011 and 2012. In Misrata, MSF teams treated wounded patients and provided mental health care, and also supported hospitals in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other cities. In 2013, MSF provided both physical and mental health care to patients affected by conflict.