Dr. Hussein Alfaituri, a medical physicist, has been working at the Benghazi Radiotherapy Centre for over 10 years. “I took this position because I could provide direct help during the diagnosis and treatment phase,” he says.
In 2011, during the uprising against the government of Muammar Gaddafi, Dr. Hussein stayed in the city and continued working. “It was a difficult time. Many people were leaving because they were afraid. But radiotherapy requires continuous and ongoing treatment, and we couldn’t leave our patients.”
In 2014, a second civil war broke out in Libya. Benghazi suffered heavy bombardment and war damage, which pushed some 105,000 people to flee their homes.
“Most of the clinics and hospitals located in the conflict areas had to be completely shut down, because it was a risk for both patients and doctors,” says a representative of the Municipal Medical Services Office. “Even when the security conditions improved, the centres themselves needed renovation from the damage sustained by the missiles and bullets.”
Since then, Libya has grown increasingly fragmented. The country now has several political forces, each backed by different militias and tribes.
Delivery of basic services such as power and water, health and sanitation, has in many instances failed. Hospitals and clinics have been struggling to cope, with some 17.5 percent of them closed, and the rest functioning at a fraction of their former capacity.
The Benghazi Radiotherapy Centre was the only hospital in eastern Libya that offered specialized treatment for cancer patients, and the only one that provided 3D therapy planning. In 2014, the 500 patients who depended on treatment were forced to continue it abroad or stop it altogether.
“We couldn’t access the radiotherapy equipment anymore or remove them from the building,” said Dr. Awad Alkatib, an oncology specialist in the hospital. “We could no longer treat our patients.”
The hospital remained closed until late 2016. “It was in a terrible state,”says Dr. Hussein, who was one of the first people to enter the building after it became accessible again. “Missiles had fallen on the building, destroying many offices and treatment areas. The electrical system was damaged, and the furniture was ruined. A lot of equipment was stolen” he recalls. “We were devastated.”
Determined to reopen and begin treating patients again, the hospital management sought the help of the Stabilization Facility for Libya (SFL), implemented by UNDP. Launched in April 2016, the SFL aims to fill key gaps between humanitarian relief and sustainable, democratic development, by rehabilitating critical infrastructure; boosting the capacity of local authorities to address the needs of the population; and enhancing local mediation and conflict resolution capacities.
At the radiotherapy hospital, damaged sections were repaired and painted, the electrical system rehabilitated, and the medicine storage, mechanical room and heating and ventilation system were renovated.
UNDP also repaired and upgraded the linear accelerator machine, which had been damaged and looted during the conflict. This high-tech machine, used to deliver radiotherapy, is the only one of its kind in eastern Libya.
“There are no private clinics that can provide the treatment that we deliver, and it’s very expensive to receive radiotherapy treatment abroad,” says Dr. Awad. “The medical staff had been really frustrated at being unable to assist patients. Now we have a proper place to do our work.”
The centre now operates at about 80 percent of capacity and treats 45 cases a day, mostly breast, head and neck, and brain cancers. The hospital will also offer diagnostic services such as CT scans and MRIs.
“Recently we treated a woman who was unable to talk due to a tumor in her tongue,” Dr. Husein recalls. “After she received treatment at the Radiotherapy Centre, it was very emotional for us to see how thrilled she was to be able to talk again.”
“Our aim is that our patients can enjoy safer and happier lives.” — Dr. Hussein
SFL will continue to support the hospital, as well as other establishments throughout Libya, installing solar solar energy systems, providing supplies such as ambulances, garbage trucks, fire engines, generators and computers for schools and government offices, and benefiting more than 1 million people.
Story and photos by UNDP Libya