WHO Humanitarian Supplies Remain Held in Libyan Customs

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to experience delays in obtaining the release of its emergency and humanitarian supplies from Libyan customs. This is despite raising the issue with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the head of the COVID-19 scientific committee, to no avail.

A report published by Reliefweb on Thursday, stated that there are urgently needed items that have been blocked in customs since the 26th of July 2020. It pointed out that WHO is expecting a large shipment of oxygen concentrators to arrive in Misrata on the 4th of September, as the country suffers severe shortages of oxygen. “WHO has informed the national authorities that these supplies are expected shortly, and has asked them to secure their speedy release,” the report said.

On the 13th of August, WHO issued a statement in which it said that a truck carrying humanitarian supplies had been intercepted. The truck was on its way to Benghazi and Tobruk, and was stopped by militias near the city of Zawiya on the 6th of August. The driver was detained overnight, and his phone was confiscated. “However, he was able to send a message to the WHO country office to inform it of the unfolding situation. WHO immediately contacted the Ministry of Health in Tripoli, and asked it to intervene,” it said.

WHO said that the following morning, the militia directed the driver to deliver the supplies to a nearby healthcare facility. The insulin contained in the supplies were no longer viable for use, as it could not be ascertained whether it was kept refrigerated overnight. It was consequently discarded.

“WHO has repeatedly asked national authorities in Tripoli to intervene. They must ensure that the supplies are restored to WHO for distribution to health facilities in the east. As of the time of writing, the goods (with a value of just over $22,000) have not been returned to the Organisation,” said the statement.

Elizabeth Hoffman, the WHO Representative in Libya said that “this is the first instance of aid diversion in Libya, since I arrived here in July 2019. The security and political situation is as complex as ever. Our humanitarian mandate is to deliver aid to all who require it, regardless of their political or religious affiliations. Interference by militia and other armed groups is wholly unacceptable, and against all humanitarian aid principles.”

On the 26th of August 2020, WHO issued a press release expressing its alarm over the rapidly increasing rates of COVID-19 in the country. This is after the number of confirmed cases more than doubled within 2 weeks. “We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” Hoffman said. “While the number of new cases has increased dramatically, contact tracing remains difficult. The stigma associated with COVID-19 is so great that infected people are reluctant to come forward for healthcare, and unwilling to disclose the names of others with whom they have been in close contact. We are in a vicious cycle.”

“The virus is spreading because infected people, and their contacts are lost, preventing follow up. The ever greater numbers of infected patients are placing a huge strain on the health system, which is already unable to cope with normal workloads,” she added.

The WHO Representative recently traveled to Benghazi for meetings with senior officials. She repeatedly stressed that the COVID-19 situation was critical, and asked the authorities to take the necessary steps to release COVID-19 supplies within 48 hours. During her visit, supplies that had been blocked in customs in Benghazi for several weeks were released. “The authorities in Benghazi have promised that future COVID-19 supplies arriving in the east will be released in less than 48 hours. A large shipment of supplies is due to arrive in Benghazi on the 7th of September. WHO will provide an update on the situation in its next report,” Reliefweb added in its report.