Africa News

Fears that coronavirus could overwhelm war-torn Libya

Issued on: 29/03/2020 – 11:30Modified: 29/03/2020 – 11:30

Many observers are fearing the worst after the first coronavirus case was recorded in Libya on March 24, with two rival governments fighting to take control of the country and a health system that has been on its knees for nearly a decade amid the chaos that followed the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafis regime in 2011.

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Libyas first coronavirus patient has been placed in isolation in a hospital in the capital Tripoli, according to the health minister in Fayez al-Sarrajs UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The patient is a 73-year-old man who entered Libya through Tunisia in early March after staying in Saudi Arabia. His direct entourage – consisting of more than 20 people – tested negative, local media reported.

Initially, it seems that many in Libya thought they were safe from the pandemic that has spread throughout the world, including to the countrys North African neighbours. "We're sheltered from the virus in Libya, whose capital is under siege and where land and air links are closed," Moayed al-Missaoui, an academic, told Agence France-Presse earlier in March.

However, the UN now fears a catastrophic outcome, while the two armed camps – Sarrajs GNA and Field Marshal Marshal Khalifa Haftars Libyan National Army (LNA) – continue their military operations against each other. This has led to concerns about the risks for civilians who find themselves trapped amid the clashes, as well as for migrants held in detention centres, some of which are located near combat zones.

“We are deeply concerned as the first #COVID19 case is reported in Libya,” tweeted the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Libya. “The health and safety of all people in Libya, including 345,000 of the most vulnerable, is at risk. A possible outbreak will overwhelm the already stretched aid response.”

Health system already close to collapse

It is no surprise that the UN body is anxious. Libyas healthcare system has been in “constant decline” because “too many hospitals and clinics have been damaged during the fighting”, the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out.

Despite the efforts of the UN and NGOs, a shortage of qualified personnel, the disruption of supply chains due to the conflict, and the lack of medicine and medical equipment are making healthcare provision difficult – and not just in isolated parts of the country.

“This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus,” Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the World Health Organisation in Libya, told Reuters earlier this week. For its part, the 2019 Global Health Security Index ranks the country at 185 out of 195 for its ability to respond to the spread of an epidemic.

We are deeply concerned as the first #COVID19 case is reported in Libya.

The health and safety of all people in Libya, including 345,000 of the most vulnerable, is at risk. A possible outbreak will overwhelm the already stretched aid response.

The time to act + prevent is now.

— OCHA Libya (@OCHA_Libya) March 25, 2020

In a sign of their shared awareness of the potential gravity of the situation, both the GNA (whose powerbase is in Tripoli) and the LNA (based in eastern Libya) had anticipated the arrival of the coronavirus by taking preventive measures, imposing night time curfews and closing some public places.

The GNA health ministry urged all medical staff on March 26 to go and work on the frontline in hospitals, where healthcare workers have already been mobilised to be ready for a potential coronavirus pandemic. The GNA also announced that several quarantine sites, including two in Tripoli, will be set up to isolate people infected with the disease.

People are already struggling to access healthcare

Nevertheless, Ahmed al-Hassi, the spokesman for the Haftars Coronavirus Epidemic Advisory Medical Committee said earlier in the week that regardless of the number of beds and intensive care rooms that have been prepared, Libya would be “unable to cope” with an epidemic due to its “limited capabilities”.

“People are already struggling to access healthcare for routine treatment, and hospitals are already struggling with large numbers of victims of the fighting in Tripoli,” Liam Kelly, Libya director at the Danish RefugRead More – Source