Benghazi: Access to healthcare becomes a call for returnees

August 19, 2021

Nurse at the Baghdadi Clinic measures the blood pressure of a patient. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj

More than three years of fighting in Benghazi left barely any buildings intact and no essential facilities available. Electricity networks were cut off, schools and health institutions were damaged and looted, and skilled health workers were forced to evacuate. With the city under continuous offensives, families went seeking refuge elsewhere leaving behind a devastated ghost town.

In 2017, following the end of the conflict in Benghazi, 150 families returned to their homes in Omar Ibn Al-Aas Street in the city centre. Others were hesitant to return with the absence of essential basic services.

In efforts to support the municipality’s revival, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the “Resilience4Libya” project supported by the European Union (EU) rehabilitated  the Baghdadi clinic in 2018 to reinstate health services for the 60,000 residents of Benghazi and surrounding towns.

The Baghdadi Clinic in Benghazi before and after its rehabilitation.  Photo: ©UNDP Libya

The Baghdadi Clinic building is a historic Italian infrastructure dating back to the 1940s. The clinic consists of several patient rooms, a laboratory, pharmacy, dental clinic, as well as several specialized health care departments, including internal medicine and urinary tract departments, which receives patients throughout the entire year.

The Baghdadi Clinic today provides comprehensive health services to the community including dentistry. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj

Mr. Salem Al-Awkali, a nurse at the clinic explains of the former healthcare condition, “We used to work in a small clinic that does not have the capacity to take in many patients. We could not provide quality health services to the community due to the poor state of the infrastructure. With the rehabilitation of the Baghdadi clinic, the space has become adequate and we can provide quality care again to a larger number of people.  We now provide comprehensive health services including nutrition in an accessible and stable environment.”

Mr. Osama Al-Kaza, Director of Projects at the municipality of Benghazi says, “This clinic is one of the oldest clinics in Benghazi and a commemoration of the various societies that passed through this significant geographical area. The rehabilitation of clinics is vital for people to return to their homes in Benghazi, to rebuild and bring life back to the city.”

Rebuilding efforts in the city has allowed for hope to grow amidst the rubble and for people to return and start rebuilding their homes, lives and futures. Dr. Hussam Al-Sharif, Director of the Clinic reiterates, “The rehabilitation of the Baghdadi Clinic played a significant role in bringing back around 1,500 more families to the area.”

Dr. Wafa Al-Aqouri, a dermatologist, says, “At the beginning, the number of patients we were receiving was very low but now we’re seeing more patients come in. We receive about 40 patients at the dermatology clinic every day which is an indication that life is returning to the Omar Ibn Al-Aas Street after years of abandonment.”

Prominent health issues within the community are being caused by continuous exposure to concrete dust. The rubble that still fills the city causes skin diseases including rashes, scabies and in extreme cases skin ulcers, as well as respiratory complications. Thankfully, the clinic has created specialized units, including a dermatology department, to treat the numerous patients who suffer from rubble related diseases.

Dr. Al-Aqouri states, “The rubble that still fills the area causes many skin diseases such as scabies, so we receive patients suffering from this almost every day. It was difficult to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have been doing everything we can to serve the community.”

Salama Amani, a young patient highlights, “I was suffering from rashes on my arms, but thanks to the clinic and Dr. Wafaa Al-Aqouri and other doctors here, they were able to treat it”.

The clinic has also been making efforts to address the community’s priorities and introduce new systems that can ensure that all people receive quality healthcare. Dr. Al-Sharif explains, “We created a new school health services department, which is considered one of its kind in Benghazi.” The school health services department ensures that all students from the district have files at the clinic and encourages them to visit for check-ups. The clinic’s partnership with the school serves to effectively provide health services to students, and acts as a proactive measure to stop resurgence of infectious diseases, as well as raises awareness about the importance of public health.

UNDP’s “Resilience4Libya” with funding from the EU is focusing on helping the municipality of Benghazi bring back essential services to support recovery efforts. In line with these efforts, the project has also rehabilitated several other medical institutions, as well as schools and universities, electrical substations, sports fields including the first Rugby Field in Libya, and public spaces including the Benghazi Corniche.  

Young patients visit the clinic frequently suffering from rubble induced rashes. ©UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj