As the United Nations urges unity in the fight against the Coronavirus, there has been a recent call for a ceasing of all hostilities between conflicting parties in Libya in order to enable the medical authorities to quickly respond to the Coronavirus epidemic.
In this Brief, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) analyses the Libyan case in order to review the measures taken to address the needs of those who are the most impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic; namely refugees, daily workers, women and children, and the elderly.
So how did Libya respond to confront the Coronavirus epidemic and protect its people?
With the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, daily life has become more difficult for many people in Libya as they face great challenges in terms of obtaining basic goods and services or finding a job, at a time when rent, food and fuel prices have increased. In addition, whilst countries around the world are preoccupied with dealing with the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic, the North African country is witnessing a clear deficit in its health infrastructure and an inability of its hospitals to confront the virus.
Since the morning of March 25, when Libya recorded its first case of Coronavirus infection, projections have indicated that the spread of the virus would deepen the crisis in Libya. This is in a country that lacks adequate health infrastructure and medical supplies, with increased numbers of patients and wounded persons as a result of the armed military conflict between the Libyan National Army and the forces of the Government of National Accord over Tripoli.
Libya only has one referential disease control center, and many Libyan hospitals and health care centers suffer from weak infrastructure, a lack of some basic supplies, and a shortage of medical workers. This is in addition to the damage incurred to health care centers in various areas due to war and chaos, according to medical specialists.
Libya’s efforts to confront the Coronavirus were limited to developing a single plan to support state municipalities by providing them with rooms for isolation and quarantine, in addition to respirators, without having practical plans to protect vulnerable groups such as women, daily workers, the elderly and children.
Women in Libya are evidently impacted by the Coronavirus implications, especially with regard to gender-based violence, limitations on their chances for employment and livelihood, and their opportunities in general. Accordingly the report issued by UN Women on “The Economic and Social Impact of Conflict on Libyan Women” has confirmed that Libyan women, and as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, are likely to be hit hardest by the epidemic due to insecurity and gender-based discrimination. The same report indicates that women are 12 times more likely to be unemployed than men in Libya, and in light of the difficulty of finding work, this leaves them more at-risk of infection.
Libyan authorities have announced some measures to prevent a possible outbreak of Coronavirus across its territories. However, these measures do not address the risks facing Libyans who have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict and who are living in crowded shelters. According to UNHCR estimates, here are more than 300,000 internally displaced people, 128 of whom have been recently displaced since the clashes restarted in Tripoli in April 2019, and half a million internally displaced people. Additionally, the UN estimates that the current conflict in Libya has displaced more than 150,000, some of whom live in crowded and unsanitary shelters, unable to return to their homes. Due to the intensifying conflict in Libya, the work of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations has been impacted by the imposed curfews and shortage of necessary personal protection gear and preventive measures, which has hindered their access to all vulnerable groups. However, UNHCR has joined efforts with local communities and various municipalities in Libya to send humanitarian aid, medical equipment, medication, and ambulances to many medical centers with capacity shortages.
Moreover, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned about the inability of Libya’s health care system to cope with large numbers of patients in the context of the Coronavirus outbreak, including vulnerable populations like those in custody or displaced person shelters.
Accordingly, as the virus spreads, HRW calls for the immediate release of children, internally displaced people, the elderly, people with mental illness and nonviolent offenders, and has even suggested providing alternatives to detention.
There are 8,000 Libyans and non-Libyans in Libyan prisons, in addition to 3,000 refugees and migrants held in formal and informal detention facilities on unsubstantiated offenses without tools for claiming their rights in challenging the offenses or accessing political, civil society, media, or legal communities for assistance. They face torture and other ill-treatment, in addition to poor sanitation, and lack of access to medical care.
As a result of prison overcrowding in Libyan detention facilities, the Platform Coalition has renewed its demand for the release of prisoners from unnecessary detention under these appalling conditions and the spread of the epidemic, which amounts to a mass death sentence for detainees and represents a threat to public health throughout Libya and abroad.
On the other hand, there are a number of local initiatives in Libya that are aiming help citizens to combat the Coronavirus. For example, a group of doctors has launched “remote medical consultation” services in Benghazi in an effort to protect the health of citizens from the spread of the virus and encourage them to implement measures of home confinement. The Libyan Red Crescent field awareness teams in Benghazi have also introduced the “Safe Distances” idea at Benghazi Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Diabetes. Furthermore, in the city of “Ajdabiya”, the National Safety Authority in cooperation with the Libyan Red crescent awareness teams, the National Center for Disease Control and a number of civil society organizations and youth volunteers have launched a campaign to disinfect shops, government departments, operating clinics and the city’s central hospital.