By Al Russell.
Tripoli, 27 August:
Less than a year since the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, one of the revolution’s clearest legacies . . .[restrict]is the worrying number of independent armed groups that are active in the country. These men, once ‘the guardians of the revolution’ now create an atmosphere of tension throughout Libya. This problem manifests itself across many areas of life, but perhaps no more distressingly than in the nation’s beleaguered hospitals.
Security issues first arose for medical staff during the revolution, when rebels who took it upon themselves to protect hospitals attempted to violate the neutrality of physicians by forcing them to work according to their orders.
This tension increased in the days and weeks following the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime. Those who had kept a low profile during the fighting jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon and would-be rebels sought to impose themselves. The doctors and nurses, who felt they had an equal right to the freedom of “Libya Hurra”, grew increasingly indignant with the instructions they were being given by men who’s only qualification, in many cases, was their Kalashnikov.
Dr Majdi Ben Ali, of the Al-Razzi Clinic in Tripoli, told the Libya Herald that this only flared into physical violence against medical staff on a handful of occasions, including an attack on the chairman of Tripoli’s Central Hospital, but he emphasised that the atmosphere of tension that existed in hospitals throughout, and immediately after, the revolution, represented an unstable foundation on which the post-revolutionary healthcare system is attempting to operate.
Direct attacks on medical staff are by no means a thing of the past, as the stabbing of a Jordanian nurse in Sirte this month illustrated. However, the central security concern in hospitals today is the spillover of gang warfare into the wards, when injured fighters are taken there by their peers; medics are increasingly concerned that this is making their jobs impossible, and that hospitals are no longer safe environments.
Striking hospital staff, such as those at the Hawari Hospital in Benghazi, are calling for the government to provide official, unpartisan security details from the police or army, to allow them to continue to heal the sick and injured.
Tripoli Medical Centre has been offered protection by the Supreme Security Council, but this is distasteful to many physicians who are keen to retain total neutrality, in cooperation only with official government institutions. The offer has however been accepted, as a temporary measure, allowing hospital staff to continue their work without fear of violence.
This disturbing situation seems to be just one of the many symptoms of the most fundamental problem facing post-revolutionary Libya, the lack of an effective, legitimate, nation-wide security force. The country is awash with groups, such as the SSC, militias and the civilian and military police, but all answer to different authorities and each has their own political agenda and a limited remit.
To ensure that hospitals are safe environments, and places of healing rather than harm, many doctors, such as Dr Ben Ali, believe the country requires a government that can impose the rule of law nationwide. There must be an effective police force with a monopoly on law enforcement, ending the reign of gangs and militias. Making Libya safe must surely be the new government’s priority, and until this is achieved, the nation’s healthcare, along with so much else, is in jeopardy. [/restrict]