Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tripoli Hospitals in Dire Need

Basic medical supplies needed as fight for control of Libyan capital continues.
By Assad Riyany

Conditions in Tripoli’s hospitals are really tough. They are short of everything. Even while Muammar Gaddafi was in power, they were badly resourced, and after six months of civil war, supplies have been reduced to almost nothing. In recent days it’s also been difficult for doctors and nurses to get to work because of the fighting.

It’s very difficult to find out precise casualty figures for the battle for Tripoli. I am inclined to believe the number is close to 400, with about 1,200 injured. The freedom fighters have set up field hospitals in people’s homes, in houses around areas where there is still fighting, instead of trying to take the injured to hospitals which are in any case badly equipped.

The charity I am involved in, World Medical Camp for Libya, is run by a core group of about ten, and we have held numerous events over the last six months – dinners, “iftar” meals, sponsored abseiling and half-marathons. We have managed to raise nearly 400,000 pounds, but the aid we have delivered to Libya has been worth nearer five million pounds since we have received many gifts in kind.

Our aim was to fill gaps and provide help until the bigger aid agencies and NGOs took over.

We have already sent people to the hospitals to ask what kind of supplies they need. They are asking for really very simple items– anaesthetics, bandages, thread for sutures, all the consumables that they use a lot of.

So far, we haven’t yet got supplies into Tripoli, but a shipment of medical goods has been sent to Tunis. I am flying to Tunis later this week, and I hope to be able to drive the shipment to Tripoli myself the next day.

Elsewhere in Libya, Misrata is now safe, but the city was nearly destroyed and lacks even basic amenities. Conditions are improving day by day, though, as aid and food is shipped in from Malta.

A lot of people who fled from the Nafusa mountains are already trying to go home, and this could create some humanitarian problems.

For now, Tripoli is the place of greatest concern. There seems to be enough food but what the most urgent need is to restore electricity, which is entirely cut in some areas and very patchy in others. That’s one of the biggest issues, but it is not something our group can help with.

My whole family is in Tripoli, and I guess that in a very selfish way, I have only been able to deal with being so far away by throwing myself into the charity. The options were to go there and fight, or to help out with aid from here.

We hope to carry on with the work, although we will need to re-evaluate our mission. For example, there have been a lot of deaths in the last six months, leaving a lot of widows and orphans behind.

I sincerely hope we have made a difference, and people on the ground tell us that we have. It feels like a full-time job, although I am still working as a banker. But this has taken over my life in the last six months.

And now it feels great, so bless this work. I’m sure my colleagues agree that it was so much better to do something rather than just sit here, dwell on the situation and watch the news from home the whole time. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t done anything.

Assad Riyany is a Tripoli-born banker who has lived in London for the last 19 years.