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WHO responds to Libya's flood disaster with focus on health care access, disease prevention

September 24, 2023 at 12:18 pm

A sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]

In the wake of devastating floods in eastern Libya, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is focusing on identifying diseases and preventing outbreaks, said Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the global body, reports Anadolu Agency.

Outlining the key health concerns and priorities in the region, Harris said the primary concern is the urgent need for access to clean water.

Nearly 4,000 people were killed in floods caused by Storm Daniel in Libya on Sept. 10, while more than 40,000 have been displaced, according to UN figures. The storm affected several cities, including Benghazi, Bayda, Al Marj, and Soussa, resulting in massive destruction of infrastructure and a significant loss of life.

Derna was hardest hit by the deadly flooding, causing the city’s dams to burst, washing away homes and people. Over 8,000 people remain missing.

Harris stressed the importance of strengthening early warning and surveillance systems to prevent and control potential outbreaks of water and foodborne diseases.

The aftermath of floods can create conditions conducive to the spread of infectious diseases, making proactive monitoring crucial.

Vaccination services are also a top priority for WHO. Harris underlined the immediate need to provide vaccines, especially to children, to protect them against diseases such as measles and diphtheria.

She said that such diseases are absolutely lethal for children, especially when they are in very difficult circumstances after having a “horrible experience.”

Recognising the psychological toll of the disaster, Harris pointed out that mental health support is equally critical. She said the WHO aims to provide mental health first aid to those in crisis situations, helping them begin the process of psychological recovery.

Libya: 245 bodies recovered in one day in flood-stricken Derna city

Harris emphasised that the disaster also affected the hospitals in the region, saying even before the disaster, there were significant humanitarian needs in the region, and half of the hospitals were not operating at full capacity because they lacked sufficient medical supplies and healthcare personnel.

Currently, the needs of the hospitals in the region have increased even more, and many hospitals have been destroyed in floods.

“What we are doing is setting up field hospitals and we are bringing in emergency medical teams to provide the care as close as possible to where people are,” she added.

Harris also pointed out that it is difficult to determine the number of casualties and missing persons in such emergencies.

Therefore, she mentioned that they have alerted the officials of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to identify the identities of the deceased individuals and ensure their safe and dignified burial.

Noting that 450 people have been rescued by national and international teams in the last few days, Harris stated that the search for the missing individuals continues.