With the first case of COVID-19 now confirmed in Libya, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is warning that an outbreak of the disease could have a devastating impact on the country, where conflict continues.
Noting that despite the disease having been declared a global pandemic, there is no sign of a ceasefire in sight and hostilities escalated dramatically in recent days after repeated calls from the international community to halt hostilities.
As a result of the ongoing conflict, Libya’s health system has been severely challenged to meet the needs of all within Libya’s borders with 1.7 million people are already in extreme need of health assistance.
According to Tom Garofalo, Country Director for the IRC in Libya,
“Since April last year there have been 62 confirmed attacks on health facilities and almost one fifth of Libyan hospitals and primary health facilities are closed. Those that remain open suffer from a lack of specialised medical staff and a properly functioning medical supply chain. Only six per cent are able to offer a full range of services, meaning that the country is ill-prepared for an outbreak of the magnitude of COVID-19."
Garofalo added: “With essential equipment already in short supply around the globe, and with Libya’s health system already so fragile, the international community must not turn its back on Libya. Libyan public health officials are scrambling to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, and have allocated USD 350 million to support the response. But with such vast vulnerability in the population, they risk being overwhelmed, perhaps worse than we’ve seen in other contexts."
The IRC has provided emergency and reproductive health services in western Libya and is one of the few international organizations with a direct presence in Libya with two offices in Tripoli and Misrata.