“Doctors Without Borders” Intensifies Mental Health Support in Libya


In the aftermath of the devastating floods caused by storm Daniel, Michel-Olivier Lacharité, the Head of Emergency Services at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Derna, has announced plans to amplify mental health support efforts in the city. This initiative has received praise from the Parliament-designated government in eastern Libya.

In a statement, Lacharité said that the need for psychological relief is immense among Derna’s residents. MSF has begun medical activities, focusing on mental health support for victims, as well as for medical staff and volunteers.

He added, “We can still see that people are profoundly affected by the disaster. Many people have lost their homes or family members – often both. Almost everyone in the city is mourning and in pain at the moment.”

The MSF official pointed out that two weeks after the floods, the retrieval of bodies under the rubble is not a priority anymore, while some bodies are still being recovered at sea.

According to the search and rescue teams, the stream will continue to bring corpses in the coming weeks.

“What was most striking when we arrived in Derna, was the scale of the destruction. While the flooding was devastating, it was really the destruction of the two dams on the night of 10 September, while everyone was sleeping, that destroyed the center of the city and took everything and everyone away within a few hours,” he noted.

As a consequence of this massive flooding, there were relatively few people wounded.

In addition, Lacharité confirmed that the focus is now on rebuilding a bridge between the eastern and western parts of Derna, as the city has been split in two. The main priority is to make sure that everyone is able to receive mental health support.

In terms of healthcare, the hospital system is not overwhelmed. There has only been a limited increase in the number of patients related to the disaster itself. The hospital system is coping well, despite the situation and field hospitals set up by foreign governments were operational a few days after the storm.

Basic healthcare structures have been particularly impacted by the disaster: some general healthcare centers have been destroyed by the floods, and many medical and paramedical staff have either died in the flooding or are now mourning relatives or colleagues among the victims. Some primary healthcare centers are being supported by volunteers, who have come from all over Libya to help.

Two weeks in, many healthcare personnel are still missing or in the process of mourning, and the volunteers who came to help in the first days are starting to leave.

Since 20 September, teams have been supporting two general healthcare centers. To date, MSF doctors have already conducted 537 consultations in Embokh and Salem Sassi Primary Health Care Centers, and Oum Al Qura school shelter.

The consultations have mainly been for non-communicable diseases (diabetes, hypertension) for adults, and respiratory infections and diarrhoea for children. Many patients were still in shock, some showing signs of psychological trauma. Some children refuse to drink water for fear of drowning.

Patients complained of flashbacks, and being unable to sleep between 2:30 am to 5:00 am – the precise time the deadly wave engulfed the city.