Outlines the obstacles that an African healthcare system, particularly in Northern
Africa, faces during a conflict period.
Outlines major strategies that an Africa healthcare system could implement.
Strategies herein can improve the quality of an African healthcare system.
Armed conflicts have serious direct and indirect negative impacts on the affected
nations. The direct effects of armed conflicts are seen in deaths, injuries, harm
to people, and destruction of properties and infrastructures. The indirect effects
result from, among others, reduced access to food, hygiene, health services, and clean
water, and from the lifting of the thin veil of civilisation . Furthermore, armed
conflicts cause population displacement, breakdown of health and social services,
and heightened risk of disease transmission .
Having gone through the 2011 war, Libya is still suffering its consequences. The conflict
has been complicated and its consequences aggravated by internal fighting and fragmented
regional instability. In addition to the killing, injury and population displacement,
new challenges to Libyan society have arisen, such as human trafficking and economic
crises combined with high rates of unemployment and corruption. Libya should now be
in the process of reshaping itself in a positive way by facing the heavy challenges
in all aspects of life, and those multiple challenges should be faced by all sectors.
The Libyan healthcare system in particular has to deal with great challenges under
unusual circumstances. In 2010, Libya’s human development index was ranked the highest
in Africa and outperformed both Brazil and Saudi Arabia as shown in Fig. 1. There
was “free healthcare [and] free public education,” but after the former socialist
regime was toppled with the help of NATO air forces, the country has remained in a
spiral of violence , .
Libyan human development index: trends 2005–2010.
Herein, we highlight the major obstacles that the Libyan healthcare system is facing
and outline the strategies needed to overcome the challenges.
Burden of the conflict
Despite the lack of accurate epidemiological estimates of the burdens of the Libyan
armed conflict, a few studies have shown that great damage has been inflicted on Libyan
society, mirrored in the large numbers of deaths and injuries and in population displacements
, . A recent report on health in times of uncertainty in the Eastern Mediterranean
region over the last decade has shown that Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen had a steady
increase in life expectancy of about 0.25 years per year between 1990 and 2010. However,
Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have lost about 0.25 years of life expectancy after the uprisings
that began in 2010. When comparing the observed life expectancy to the expected life
expectancy if no crises had occurred, we found a large decrease in life expectancy
in Libya of more than nine years for males and six years for females . A surveillance
study conducted between February 2011 and February 2012 showed that 21,490 (0.5%)
persons were killed, 19,700 (0.47%) were injured, and 435,000 (10.3%) have been displaced.
The calculated national mortality rate was 5.1 per 1000 per year (95% CI 4.1–7.4),
but the rate varied significantly by region. This rate increased further as the armed
conflicts escalated in 2014.
Fig. 2, Fig. 3 show the distribution of direct deaths, injuries and population displacements
during the Libyan conflict in 2011 by age and sex. Both soldiers and civilians died
as a direct consequence of the conflict. However, the highest mortality was among
men aged 15–59 years, indicating that almost all the fighters were men. Injuries and
population displacements are two major concomitant complications of the Libyan armed
conflict with which the country’s health service has to struggle with during the coming
Estimated gender distribution of deaths, injuries and displacements during the Libyan
Age distribution of deaths, injuries and internal displacement since the start of
the Libyan armed conflict in 2011.
War-associated injuries impose a heavy burden on a healthcare system. Hospital capacities
become overloaded and the urgency of injured combatants and civilian casualties may
displace “regular” patients. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for huge amounts
of essential supplies (e.g. consumables, blood, blood products and pharmaceuticals),
which are already in shortage. On top of all this, clinical workers suffer additional
heavy emotional stress from working under unsafe conditions to deal with difficult
battle-associated injuries. These problems pile additional burdens on health management
and hospital environments . In the long run, many if not most of these injuries
will end up as permanent handicaps requiring special services that the healthcare
system has to provide. As the Libyan healthcare information system has broken down,
there is great uncertainty about the magnitude of mortality and disability.
Massive population displacements during the Libyan conflict generated large numbers
of internal refugees scattered in camps in the safer cities. This is expected to increase
poverty, at least in the short term. Most of the displaced citizens have lost their
jobs and income and have had to leave behind their assets and savings. Studies carried
out on selected displaced communities in Iraq, Somalia and Southern Sudan indicate
that microbial diseases and malnutrition have become endemic, usually due to inadequate
water supplies and food delivery logistics . The ongoing Libyan armed conflicts
have added a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases.
A sudden surge in cases of tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases and parasitic infections
have frequently been reported at healthcare facilities . The incidences of mental
health syndromes such as stress, anxiety and posttraumatic stress have also increased
Transportation, communication and patient information systems within the Libyan healthcare
system have been badly disrupted, particularly in primary and emergency services.
There has also been direct damage to the buildings and infrastructures. This damage
could diminish the ability to accurately measure the effects on the populations affected
by the armed conflict, which leads to great uncertainty about the magnitude of mortality
and disability . The challenges to the Libyan healthcare system are evident and
their nature and magnitude dictate the need for reassessment of the whole system.
To deal with the heavy burdens, the Libyan healthcare system has to be re-configured;
both immediate and long-term strategies are needed.
Planning and future prospects
The future of the Libyan healthcare system depends on the country’s ability to manage,
remedy and resolve the consequences of the conflict. The system can be rebuilt with
relative ease if the wealth of the country is put in good hands guided by appropriate
strategies , . Immediate interventions based on clear planning policies and
followed up by periodic evaluations are urgent needs.
Fig. 4 illustrates the requirements and the stages through which the Libyan healthcare
system should pass in order to provide a healthy life for the Libyan population. Post-conflict
assessment and rehabilitation can be divided into three phases. The first is an emergency
phase that is associated with an initial response to the conflict period and aimed
at immediate health needs. The second is a transitional phase that is associated with
the post-conflict period and aimed at coordination and restoration needs. A final
development phase consists of upgrading and long-term planning. These three phases
should be totally integrated and must not be segregated from each other. The achievement
of these goals is heavily dependent on the country’s security status, both internal
and external. Libya’s strategic location and its wealth put it at risk of interference
by various local and international forces, and all remedial efforts should be driven
by national goodwill, held together by the strong social ties of Libyan society, and
guided by a firm, new, modern, independent political leadership.
Strategies and framework needed for the restoration and development of the Libyan
Conflicts of interest
The author declares no conflict of interest. The views expressed in opinion pieces
do not necessarily reflect the views of the African Journal of Emergency Medicine
or the African Federation for Emergency Medicine and are solely the opinion of the