On March 11, a Spanish humanitarian group rescued three brothers who were trying to reach Sicily by sea having left the shores of Libya in a dinghy. One of the would-be migrants was a teenager with an intravenous drip in his arm. The 13-year-old’s siblings had been told by doctors they could not treat him, so they set off across the Mediterranean in search of medical help.
That real-life drama illustrates the precarious state of health care in Libya and how the people who need it most — such as the three unfortunate brothers bound for Sicily — have inadequate access to the most basic of rights, medical treatment.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) put it, “health is a major concern in Libya.” The problem goes back to decades of neglect and mismanagement under Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, followed by years of chaos since his downfall in 2011.
“Historically incapacitated, Libya’s health system is further deteriorated due to fragmented governance, limited financial resources, deficient human resources, acute shortage of lifesaving medicines and basic equipment, a debilitated primary health-care network and neglected health services,” says the WHO.
Of Libya’s 97 hospitals, 17 were closed. At least one-fifth of primary care facilities were closed as well. Just four hospitals were fully functional.
The inadequate system is straining under additional burdens too, with refugees, displaced persons and migrants increasingly pitching up in Libya.
Libyan authorities appear to be trying to fix what they can. Private health providers are giving new hope to Libyans, at least those who can afford to pay.
The health-care predicament of the population is the best argument for an end to the Libyan crisis.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.