Libya coronavirus free, remains at risk

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Libya is not in a position to confront the coronavirus if it arrives, the head of its disease control centre said, calling for support to prepare the war-stricken country’s health system for the disease.

No cases have yet been confirmed in Libya and the country is screening international arrivals through ports and airports, said Badereldine Al-Najar, head of the National Centre for Disease Control, in an interview.

The country lacks adequate isolation, quarantine and treatment facilities, he said, blaming a lack of money.

“As long as we are ready and have adequate isolation rooms and quarantine, we can reduce the spread of the virus and so reduce damage in relation to the virus,” he said.

“In Libya, despite communication with the authorities and officials, so far our preparations are still weak regarding isolation rooms.

“In light of the lack of preparation, I now consider Libya not in a position to confront this virus,” he added.

Libya has been torn apart fighting since the 2011 revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, fragmenting the country into areas controlled by warring factions.

Since 2014, most territory has been split between the internationally recognised, Tripoli-based, Government of National Accord (GNA) and a parallel government in Benghazi.

The disease control centre is one of the few state bodies still operating, working with health departments in the rival governments.

Elizabeth Hoff, Libya country director for the World Health Organisation, said it was doing a “commendable” job but faced difficulties.

“When it comes to response, this is a higher risk country because it is a weak and fragmented health system due to conflict,” she said.

“Equipment – ventilators and so on – are lacking in many hospitals. There’s a lack of doctors and nurses in towns and the countryside,” she said.

Political fragmentation and violence means Libya cannot impose control measures to prevent the disease spreading.

The poor, crowded living conditions of migrants and internally displaced people, as well as their potential susceptibility to disease from malnourishment, makes them particularly vulnerable, she added.