Libya has reported a rise in the number of tuberculosis (TB) cases, particularly among migrants and refugees.
Doctor Hassan Al-Misrati, director of medical affairs at Abu Sitta Hospital for Chest Diseases and Chest Critical Care in Tripoli said in a recent interview that the facility is the only center treating TB patients in western and southern Libya.
Libya has reported an increase in the number of people infected with tuberculosis, its spread is especially high among migrants and refugees, medical sources on the ground said on March 24, on World Tuberculosis Day.
The World Health Organization had classified Libya as a middle burden country in terms of the diffusion of TB. However, cases have been rising in recent years as the Libyan health system has been severely disrupted by years of civil war and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victor is a 40-year-old Nigerian who arrived in Libya three years ago. He said in a recent interview that he started feeling sick and weak gradually, about a year ago. "At first, I went to the pharmacy to buy drugs, but things weren't going in the right direction and my condition did not improve, so I decided to go to the hospital and started visiting doctors who prescribed some medicines".
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic Victor was prevented from going to hospital and so he "started buying medicines from pharmacies on my own. My health worsened until a Libyan man saw me, took pity on me and brought me to a hospital."
Victor was taken to Abu Sitta Hospital for respiratory diseases in Tripoli. When he arrived, his health was so poor that he was almost unable to walk. "Before I reached this hospital, I could not walk two meters, but now I feel much better after they treated me here at Abu Sitta Chest Hospital", he said.
According to Dr Hassan Al-Misrati, director of medical affairs at Abu Sitta Hospital for Chest Diseases and Chest Critical Care, the facility is the only treatment center in western and southern Libya for (TB) cases and other chest diseases.
Abu Sitta Hospital --plagued by overcrowding
Dr Hassan Al-Misrati explained that, "currently, this hospital is responsible for treating and accommodating tuberculosis cases, as there is an ambulance and emergency department here, and an endoscopy and diagnostics department, but there are no outpatient clinics."
Other hospitals in western and southern Libya are sending TB patients to them, said Dr Hassan, expressing great concern about overcrowding. He said there had been "an increasing influx of patients, which caused the hospital to become overcrowded, due to the lack of alternative centers for tuberculosis patients, and unfortunately we do not have the capacity [to care for everyone]."
Conflict and instability in Libya have so far prevented the development and construction of a hospital to meet demand for specific treatments - a critical challenge, the doctor said. The lack of hospital facilities, such as laboratories and outpatient clinics have led the number of patients to exceed the hospital's capacity.
Dr Hassan Al-Misrati added that "TB usually affects groups with limited income who live in crowded spaces, where it is easy to spread the disease, especially in the absence of community awareness."
Unawareness, late diagnosis compound problem
Among the existing challenges is the failure to conduct surveys, in particular targeting specific areas, which may indicate how the disease is spreading. Research contributes to the early detection of cases and treatment before symptoms worsen, said medical sources on the ground.
Over the past ten years, instability, the absence of health control measures at the border and irregular migration managed by human traffickers have all contributed to the spread of this epidemic in Libya, the sources said.
The apparent lack of knowledge and awareness in the country about this health issue have often contributed to late detection and treatment.
Jira, a 21-year-old migrant from Mali, said it took her a month to get a diagnosis and find Abu Sitta Hospital. "I arrived at the center 15 days ago", she said in a recent interview. "It took time to find out about this hospital. For me, searching for a medical diagnosis and healthcare was not an easy task. My husband looked for health care facilities and asked many people for information for about a month" before finding Abu Sitta, she said.