Upholding the Healers of Benghazi’s Unseen Wounds

Benghazi Psychiatric HospitalThe Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital returned to its premises last month, three years after the war. A patient enjoying the weather in one of the hospital's courtyards. Photo: ©UNDP/Nada Elfeituri.

 

In Benghazi, the conflict has left behind a considerable amount of destruction. Much of the city's built environment has been damaged or destroyed. However, the invisible devastation caused by the fighting is just as great, if not more so, than that which is noticeable. Over the past three years, the eyes of the Benghazi’s citizens have been forced to witness the savage disintegration of the place they call home. According to a study conducted by the Libyan Organization for Psychology, the number of people who require psychiatric care has reached unprecedented numbers in the city.

Highlights

  • The Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital is the only public center in East Libya that provides psychiatric services.
  • During the first outbreak of fighting in early 2014, the hospital was caught in the crossfire.
  • After conducting a needs analysis in Benghazi, the Psychiatric Hospital was identified as being a high priority for the well being of the citizens.
  • SFL provided the hospital with an ambulance to assist with emergency transfers to the city’s medical hospitals and with a new generator.

The Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital is the only public center in East Libya that provides psychiatric services. Located in the suburban district of Hawari, the center was founded in 1982 after the decision of turning the psychiatric ward of the Jumhouria hospital into a separate institution. Along with covering the psychiatric needs of the region, the hospital also treats patients from across Libya, including Zawiya, Zliten and Sebha.

During the first outbreak of fighting in early 2014, the hospital was caught in the crossfire. Several missiles landed around the premises, causing damage and even leading to the injury of one of the patients. When the fighting intensified, the hospital was forced to evacuate and temporarily relocate to a public school – no easy task considering the vulnerable state of the patients.

Ambulance benghazi Psychiatric hospitalAmbulance provided by Stabilization Facility in Libya (SFL) project managed by UNDP to the Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: ©UNDP/Nada Elfeituri.

Three years later, after the conflict abated, the hospital’s main buildings have begun to function again. But the war has left its mark. Much of the equipment has been ruined or stolen, and the damage to the district’s infrastructure has impacted the functioning of the hospital.

“Mental illness is surrounded by social stigma in Libya, so the needs of psychiatric patients are usually ignored or overlooked,” said Nabil Eltajouri, head of the Engineering Services and the official spokesperson of Benghazi Psychiatric Hospital. “These patients are isolated by society and have no voice to make themselves heard by local authorities. It is a constant struggle to keep this hospital functioning.”

One of the main objectives of the Stabilization Facility in Libya (SFL) project managed by UNDP is to provide infrastructure rehabilitation to public buildings in war-torn cities. After conducting a needs analysis in Benghazi, the Psychiatric Hospital was identified as being a high priority for the well being of the citizens.

SFL provided the hospital with an ambulance to assist with emergency transfers to the city’s medical hospitals. As most of the hospitals’ vehicles are in disrepair, this ambulance has proved to be an invaluable resource. The hospital’s main generator was also stolen during the conflict, and with the periodic power cuts in the area affecting the hospital’s services, having a new generator was a priority which SFL covered.

“Before the fighting, we were taking care of 200 patients, but since the conflict started, the number of patients has reached 350, and we continue to get more cases,” added Nabil Eltajouri. “Many of these patients suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the war, and the hospital is over its capacity. All indicators point to an impending mental health crisis in Libya and we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it.”

“This is why the support from SFL is more important than ever,” explained Eltajouri. “The provision of basic infrastructure and emergency equipment is a critical step forward and we hope to see further support and assistance to Libya’s mental health sector.”