Violence and general insecurity are making it difficult for sick and wounded people in Libya to reach health facilities and obtain the treatment they need. Health personnel are at risk of being attacked, wounded or even killed. Ambulances are often refused passage by armed groups. Medical supplies are in short supply and emergency services and surgical capacity are overstretched.
The lack of qualified personnel is aggravated by the departure of foreign health workers, who used to make up a majority of health staff in the country. The number of patients with war-related and other disabilities is on the increase, and there is a chronic shortage of the specialized prosthetic and orthotic treatment they need.
"Health care is crucial for children, the elderly, women and all civilians affected by the violence. Health facilities and staff must be respected and protected," says Dr Sara Frea, a health officer in the ICRC's Tripoli delegation.
So far, more than 30 hospitals and clinics in different parts of the country, including Tripoli, Benghazi, Derna, Misrata, Gharian, Zintan, Sirte and Sabha, have received medicines for obstetric and other care, donated by the ICRC. Working either directly or in partnership with the Libyan Red Crescent (LRCS), the organization is also providing urgently-needed drugs and materials for health facilities in areas prone to violence. Deliveries have included anaesthetic supplies, sterilization materials, sutures, dressings and surgical linen.
"Many hospitals are shut because they are located in areas affected by the fighting. Health staff, patients and the hospitals themselves have been put in danger. Buildings have been damaged by missiles and rockets," says Dr Taha Khalifa Sultan, who heads the LRCS Health Department.
"Some of the health facilities that are still functioning are close to the areas where fighting is taking place, and it's difficult for staff to work there. And it's not safe for patients to visit them. Another major problem is the shortage of medical supplies. Some warehouses have been burnt down or damaged, while others are located in conflict areas that are difficult to access."
He describes providing health services to civilians under the current circumstances as a major challenge. "The LRCS and the ICRC are trying to provide health care for those who need them most," says Dr Taha. "Help us to help them!"