x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE health delegation lauds heroic work in Libya

Doctor's mission to Libya shows the country is intent on overcoming its problems after the revolution.

A rebel receives medical attention last August in Ras Lanuf.
A rebel receives medical attention last August in Ras Lanuf.

The heroic efforts of medical staff in Libya are helping the country to overcome huge problems after the revolution, a UAE doctor has said.

Dr Ziad Al Najjar, from the Dubai Health Authority, visited the country with a team of consultants and found many challenges.

"All over, those people were at work to rebuild their country and they want to build it quickly, as soon as possible," said Dr Al Najjar. "They are not waiting."

He visited Tripoli for 20 days last month at the request of Libya's health ministry to analyse the country's public-health needs.

"We found there is no health strategy in Libya," Dr Al Najjar said. "There should be a programme for vaccination, a programme for tuberculosis prevention and control, for leprosy …"

The team advised the government to focus on basic medical needs such as primary care.

"At the time of uprising you need a lot of generalists, not specialists," he said. "So you look for general practitioners. You look for a public health approach to rebuild this."

Libya was thrown into turmoil by a violent revolution that began in February last year, in which its ruler for four decades, Muammar Qaddafi, was overthrown and killed.

The provisional government, the National Transitional Council, has struggled to bring together the country's many regional and ethnic groups.

Revolutionary groups still control some areas, and last month tribal and militia leaders declared the oil-rich east a semi-autonomous region.

Dr Al Najjar expected to find fighting in the streets when he visited Tripoli and its suburbs but was pleasantly surprised.

"People were so helpful, and very generous," he said. "We really felt that we were in a post-war country. They say they are fighting here and really I didn't see it. We went in the streets day and night."

He saw ruined buildings, but also areas that were being cleared, and Libyans involved in rebuilding healthcare centres.

The country's recently established National Centre for Diseases Control has made "an excellent effort", Dr Al Najjar said.

Many tuberculosis patients were treated during the revolution, and those who fled to Tunisia received follow-up treatment, he said.

Diabetes patients faced greater challenges, with a lack of access to treatment in the turmoil.

"We assessed the situation and we found really that there are a lot heroic actions - of course not enough but they are there," Dr Al Najjar said.

The team urged authorities to develop a single health system with one coordinating body.

The Libyan disease control centre operates 26 regional health facilities.

"They need to strengthen the connection and interworking among these centres," Dr Al Najjar said. "They need staff, job descriptions, training for these staff, capacity building …"

He praised the country's commitment to treat rather than deport tuberculosis patients.

"Really they are respecting human rights," Dr Al Najjar said. "If you have TB and you are treated and treated well, why should I deport you?"

The policy encouraged patients to seek treatment, he said. "Once they deport, people will be afraid."

Dr Al Najjar also praised the government's "guts and courage" in requesting the analysis and said the people he had met were very enthusiastic to rebuild.

"You feel it in their eyes and their words," he said.