09/07/2011, 00.00
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Doctors without Borders call for an end to UN embargo on medical drugs

For Rosa Crestani, MSF Emergency Coordinator for Libya, the country’s health care system is on its knees from the war and the embargo. In Tripoli, health care workers have had to focus on war wounded at the expense of regular patients. Getting back to normal is an uphill struggle. The people of Libya express solidarity; its doctors show their skills.
Brussels (AsiaNews) – “The UN embargo on medical drugs is illegal, absurd and intolerable. Civilians, patients and the wounded from both sides suffer,” said in Brussels Rosa Crestani, Medecins sans frontiers (Doctors without Borders, MSF) emergency coordinator for Libya. Along with the International Red Cross, MSF is the only other organisation authorised to operate in Libya.

Speaking to AsiaNews, she said that UN sanctions have prevented the importation of medical drugs for six months, creating problems especially in Tripoli, where only now the situation is improving somewhat. “When embargoes do not take into account health needs, tragic situations always follow, which makes our job that much harder,” she said.

MSF workers were deployed in Libya in February, just before the start of NATO operations, opening up centres to provide medical care for the wounded and psychological support to civilians, first in Benghazi and then in Zlitan, Misrata and other war zones.

“In Misrata, we do surgery operations and provide psychological support to the population,” Crestani said. “We are also in three prisons with 600 prisoners, many of whom are seriously wounded.”

For the MSF coordinator, the more serious problems are in the capital where the organisation arrived only in early August. Tripoli is home to about a third of the Libyan population. Because of the embargo, hospitals had run out of supplies right on the eve of the offensive launched by NATO and the rebels.

“We were waiting for the papers from the Health Ministry,” she explained. “We only needed one form to bring in staff from Tunisia when the battle for Tripoli broke out. For the first week, we were not able to send in our staff. Only our coordinator was on site. Our 13-member team only arrived on 25 August.”

Although still functioning, the capital’s health system is on the verge of collapse, Crestani said. “Drug shortages mean that Libyan doctors can only operate on urgent cases (red code), which leaves routine cases waiting.”

“Despite the problems, hospital workers have responded well. We were impressed by the great solidarity of the Libyan people and the skills of its doctors,” She added.

Now things are getting back to normal, however some drugs that are essential in a number of therapies are still in short supply.

“Unfortunately, we are an emergency organisation and so focus on the most critical cases. We cannot help those who need special care like chemotherapy, AIDS, diabetes and chronic diseases. For these cases, drugs are not yet available. (S.C.)
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