Health care in chaos as children go without vaccine in Tripoli

» 09/02/2011 14:53
LIBYA

Medical drugs are held by UN sanctions against the old regime. For months, hospitals have been unable to buy drugs to treat the wounded and the sick. Only the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders have been allowed to operate inside the country but they are too unorganised to manage the situation.

Tripoli (AsiaNews) – “Because of UN sanctions, Libya’s main cities are without medicines. Hospitals have run out everything, especially vaccine for children and medical supplies like surgical gloves and instruments,” said Tiziana Gamannossi, an Italian businesswoman in Tripoli, who spoke to AsiaNews about Libya’s humanitarian crisis.

Sanctions came into force in March when NATO’s operation “to protect civilians” was launched. Except for basic drugs, UN restrictions prevented Libyan authorities from importing most kinds of medical supplies.

“For months, hospitals pleaded with drug companies to send medical supplies to help the wounded and the sick,” she said, “but got nowhere because of the embargo.”

During the war, only the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders were allowed to bring medical supplies into Gaddafi-controlled areas. “Red Cross workers do a lot but they are few and must cover large areas. Doctors without Borders is still blocked. It only has one field worker who is waiting for colleagues held up on the border with Tunisia.”

Things have not changed with the arrival of the rebels in Tripoli. For the businesswoman, the National Transitional Council (NTC) has not yet appointed someone to oversee the humanitarian crisis. Its few officials only show up at press conferences and have no power to act. In the capital, young rebels have set up committees to organise the distribution of food and other necessities, but do not have a clue on how to face the health crisis that is getting worse by the day.

“Drugs like vaccines and antibiotics have to be kept in cold storage,” she explained. “However, we are in the desert and refrigerators do not work for the lack of power.”

Committee officials have come to her and other private citizens for help to find a solution, she said. “I offered to have containers stored in my company’s depot, which is lying empty, so that supplies can be distributed to hospitals. It is all very complicated but we do not know whom to turn to, and no foreign government is interested in this crisis.”

The lack of cooking gas and electrical power is making matters worse. “In many cases, people have to use coal. Families with six or seven children built fire inside their flats. There are power blackouts all the time. Generators use fuel but that is in short supply. Restarting power stations is a complicated business.” (S.C.)

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