Conflict & Justice

Shortage of nurses in Libya

By Sean Carberry

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Benghazi Medical Center looks like any state-of-the-art facility — clean, well-lit, and full of the kind of beeping and pinging machinery you'd see in a modern hospital. But there's one thing you don't see that many of at the moment: nurses.

Raisa is a scrub nurse from Ukraine, and one of the few nurses left at the hospital.

"Now I'm the charge nurse manager because our manager has left," she said.

Raisa said that she's doing what she can to fill in. Of the 24 nurses in her department, only five remain. They don't have any night staff. That means long hours and double duty for the remaining nurses, as well as the doctors. Marti Fakhir, a Libyan doctor here who was born in the US, said it's been a challenge.

"The first days we had medical students and nursing students, and we doctors were doing the nursing upstairs," Fakhir said. "It's difficult to split yourself between the two. We don't know how much longer we can go on."

Dr. Jebri Lehouidi is a member of the temporary health committee in Benghazi. Sitting in the office of a small clinic in the center of the rebel-held city, he ran through some grim statistics.
Most are foreign nurses

"Most of the qualified nurses are working in ICU and CCU, and as scrub nurses," he said. Most of them are foreign nurses — from the Philippines, Ukraine, India and elsewhere – and most of them have returned home.

Lehouidi said of the roughly 500 nurses in Benghazi's hospitals, more than half have left.

"We have a crisis in nursing," said Lehouidi. "I talk with my colleagues in Zawiya and Tripoli, and they say the same situation."

He said Libya has long relied on foreign nurses from the former Soviet bloc and beyond, in part, because Libya lacks strong nursing programs, particularly specialized training for ICU or scrub nurses.

There's also the gender line in Libya that discourages women from pursuing public professions, he said.
Time to go

Now, with the fighting threatening to drag on, foreign nurses like Raisa say they want to go.

"We thought the war would just take one or two days," she said. "Nobody expected it would take as long as it has."

Raisa said that even though the hospitals are hurting and patients may suffer, it's just too dangerous for her to stay.

But, across town, at Jellah Hospital, another group of foreign nurses takes a different view. Encita Siblog is the charge nurse in the hospital's ICU.

"Most of the nurses here are from the Philippines," Siblog said, "and most of us have decided to stay."

She knows that staying in Libya is against doctor's orders, and she and the other nurses are also receiving pressure from home.

"Most of our families want us to go or the embassies are telling us go," Siblog said. "They have arranged a ship to bring us home, but we just decided to stay."

When asked why she, she shrugs.

"I have been here for the last 18 years, and after 18 years, it is difficult to go," she said with a laugh.

Then, she added that some of the younger nurses who've only been here a few months are following her lead. "And they said if you're not going we're also staying."

  • benghazi-hospital400.jpg

    Credit: susan schulman
    5 March 2011. A hospital ward in Benghazi hospital. Hospitals are overwhelmed by the numbers of casualites and as 80% of their nurses were foreign and have now gone home, are dealing with crisis situations with a greatly reduced staff. Volunteers, medical students and those with no medical training , do their best to fill in for missing staff.
  • benghazi-hospital150.jpg

    Credit: susan schulman
    5 March 2011. A hospital ward in Benghazi hospital. Hospitals are overwhelmed by the numbers of casualites and as 80% of their nurses were foreign and have now gone home, are dealing with crisis situations with a greatly reduced staff. Volunteers, medical students and those with no medical training , do their best to fill in for missing staff.

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