Medical supply lifeline from Benghazi to the west

© Jehan Bseiso

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Benghazi, Libya, and on the Tunisian border are still working to access areas of western Libya, where medical needs are reportedly critical. Inside Libya, insecurity and the volatility of the situation is not allowing the team to reach areas in the west of the country.

“We managed to reach health facilities in Ajdabya and Brega,  but were unable to continue to Ras Lanuf, which is approximately 450km west of Benghazi, ” said Anne Chatelain, MSF Emergency Medical Coordinator in Benghazi. Currently, MSF medical materials and supplies are being channeled to areas where the ongoing violent clashes have left the most needs.

At first glance, the buildings that make up the central pharmacy in Benghazi may seem relatively quiet, but inside Libyan medical personnel, pharmacy managers and young volunteers are working tirelessly.  Since violent clashes started in Libya on February 17, they have been supplying the entire network of medical facilities in eastern Libya with urgently needed medicine and medical materials.

So far MSF has channeled approximately 22 tons of medicine and medical materials through this supply lifeline, including surgical sets and burn kits, dressing materials, anesthetics and antibiotics. Intended to address both first-aid needs and surgical care, this material is distributed to areas where the fighting has left the most needs.

At present, the medical supply line from Benghazi manages to reach out to a range of health facilities, but the volatility of the situation, coupled with shifting frontlines means that this supply chain is getting dangerously long.

“One of our main concerns is that we must find a way to position the medical supplies closer to where the needs may be,” said Simon Burroughs, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Benghazi.

A steady stream of ambulances and other unmarked vehicles drive up to the central pharmacy to load up with antibiotics, bone fixators, anesthesia and other urgently needed materials - like the ones supplied by MSF - to treat the wounded in areas where the fighting has been most intense as far as 1,000 km west of Benghazi.

Highly insecure roads mean that drivers take great risks in trying to reach the medical facilities, often having to drive for hours in order to deliver the supplies.  

As the situation in Libya continues to develop, the respect for medical facilities, vehicles and personnel by all parties is paramount, and the only way patients will be able to receive urgent medical care.  

In addition to continuing donations of medical supplies, and its ongoing assessment of the needs of health facilities in and around Benghazi, MSF also has medical personnel on the ground ready to support where needed. When fresh clashes west of Ras Lanuf generated another wave of wounded, an MSF operating-theatre nurse spent the night in the surgical ward of Ajdabya hospital - 160km from Benghazi - assisting Libyan doctors with ten surgical interventions most of whom were gunshot wounds. Overall, health facilities have been able to deal with the influx of wounded but they are facing shortages in the supply of specific medical materials like anaesthesia and surgical sets.

From Ajdabya to Brega and beyond, hospitals, polyclinics and basic health centers are all dependent on the central pharmacy for their supplies.

“We were supplying medical facilities even before the events. The only difference now is that we are working 24 hours, seven days a week,” explained a Libyan doctor.

Currently, 11 more tons of MSF medicine and medical materials is on the way to Benghazi. Egyptian trucks carry out supplies past no-man’s-land into Libya, where they are offloaded into Libyan trucks. Then they can be dispatched to areas where the ongoing fighting has created supply shortages and needs.