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Report: Tripoli Psychiatric Hospital Overwhelmed by War Fallout

by Kathy Jones on  August 29, 2011 at 9:12 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
With a flood of new cases brought on by the revolution's battles, as well as a lack of drugs, staff and space, Tripoli's sole psychiatric hospital, already unable to cope under Kadhafi, struggled on Sunday.
 Report: Tripoli Psychiatric Hospital Overwhelmed by War Fallout
Report: Tripoli Psychiatric Hospital Overwhelmed by War Fallout
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"The situation has been bad for many years, but since two months it has become very bad," a doctor at the hospital told AFP, asking not to be named.

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"We urgently need drugs, especially sedatives."

The sprawling decrepit complex looks more like a military barracks than a hospital and has been unchanged for 40 years.

Patients are held behind creaking metal-barred doors, asking to light cigarettes but forbidden from holding matches.

The hospital covers all of western Libya: a population of around three million people spread out over millions of square miles (kilometres).

"We've seen relapses, people who have been in remission for 10 years have come back" because of the war, said the doctor.

"We've also seen plenty of new cases, maybe 15 a day since the start of the revolution: post-traumatic stress (PTSD), acute stress disorder, psychosis."

"We've also received prisoners freed from Kadhafi's prisons and members of his militias, suffering from everything from anxiety to PTSD to delusions.

"The patients here were traumatised by the sound of fighting, they became psychotic. Most patients became aggressive, so we turned off the news on the television and put other channels on."

Today, with the fighting largely over, patients watch Al-Jazeera Arab satellite news channel on a large flat-screen television.

They do not seem unhappy and doctors do what they can to provide help to those who are here, but an unknown number of cases are unable even to come to hospital.

The country of more than six million people has only one other psychiatric hospital, in the second city Benghazi. Each hospital has 20 doctors.

On top of the highly centralised system come the difficulties of travelling during wartime, and the new cases that inevitably accompany the trauma of a bloody six-month conflict that according to rebels has killed over 20,000.

The doctor says that many people requiring treatment are still trapped at home, afraid to go out. And that's just in Tripoli.

"We don't know about the situation in other cities, how many new cases are not coming because they are unable to travel because of the revolution. We only see those who live near the hospital."

The doctor says that many staff have simply not turned up to work since the crisis began, especially women. Foreign doctors, from Egypt, Pakistan and Iraq have all been evacuated.

"Only the Filipino nurses have stayed," he said, praising their dedication.

Ironically when the rebels took control of Benghazi early on in the conflict, the Tripoli hospital had a surplus of drugs because they no longer supplied the second city.

"But Benghazi had shortages before us. The situation in the east and in the mountains was terrible."

Even before Tripoli fell to the rebels the hospital suffered overcrowding and was unable to cope with the sheer number of cases.

Eighty patients are in a wing designed for 40, after the chronic section was closed "because of corruption," said the doctor.

"The turnover here is so quick, because we have so little capacity. Instead of keeping patients for one or two months, we keep them for one or two weeks so we can accommodate new patients," said the doctor.

"This is the revolving-door phenomenon, people leave and they are immediately readmitted. It's a disaster, they are just suffering."

The doctor said that mental health is not yet a concern for the National Transitional Council whose fighters toppled Kadhafi's regime.

"I think mental health is still invisible to them (the NTC). Their priority is for the wounded and there's still the stigma."

Source: AFP
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