22 August 2011
Over the past week, intensified fighting has resulted in a rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Libya. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has expressed deep concern about allegations of combatants misusing healthcare facilities.
Georges Comninos, head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli, said: "We are hearing about hospitals being attacked or used for military purposes. On Tuesday, in Brega, our delegates saw several ambulances hit by bullets. This is seriously compromising the delivery of healthcare to the wounded and sick.
"We call on all parties involved to protect civilians and allow health-care workers to do their jobs safely. Many lives could be saved."
Sparing civilians and medical workers
© InfoUnder international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict must distinguish at all times between civilians and fighters, and take all feasible precautions to spare civilian lives. Medical staff and facilities must also be spared.
Libyan Red Crescent volunteers are providing first aid, and doctors and nurses from both the Libyan Red Crescent and the ICRC are treating people wounded in the fighting.
This video, filmed in Libya earlier this year, shows the dangerous situations many medical workers face.
Distributing medical supplies in Tripoli
The ICRC has also started delivering medical and surgical kits to hospitals in Tripoli.
George Comninos said: “Today, our team started providing medical facilities, including the Abu Slim Trauma Centre, with some of the supplies they need in order to treat casualties. We are delivering enough medical supplies to treat at least 300 casualties. The consignments include surgical kits, dressing materials and intravenous fluids.
“In one of the hospitals we visited today, only one doctor was left to look after 25 patients, including 15 seriously wounded. We are mobilizing a complete surgical team to support the medical staff and help hospitals cope with the situation.”
The ICRC is maintaining regular contact with the main hospitals, so that the organization can evaluate their needs and respond accordingly.
"So far, we only have limited access because of the fighting. However, we have managed to maintain dialogue with all parties ever since the beginning of the conflict, so we are able to operate despite the highly fluid front lines,” explained Comninos.
Permanent presence in Libya
The ICRC has maintained a permanent presence in Libya since the armed conflict began in late February. Its staff are based in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata and the Nefusa mountains.
A week ago, the ICRC delivered medical supplies to the main hospital in Al Zawiya, a coastal city about 50 kilometres west of Tripoli. The supplies included surgical equipment, intravenous fluids, dressing materials and other items needed to treat wounded people.
"Some of the areas where the fighting is fiercest are unreachable for the moment,” Georges Comninos explained. “We hope to quickly be granted access so that we can bring people the assistance they need. We urge those involved in the fighting to facilitate humanitarian access to those places."
Read about how we are helping in Libya