“The food here is not good. It’s not healthy. We can’t drink water because it’s not clean. I can’t give it to the baby,” Mary says as she rocks Alimah, her 19-month-old daughter in her lap. “She just cries, cries, cries.”
We’re sitting in International Medical Corps’ health clinic at the Bursharda Center which houses migrant workers and their families in the remote Western Mountains region of Libya. The extreme heat in the desert is oppressive, especially under the flimsy metal structure we’re in. Like many families staying here, Mary and her family have been at Bursharda for months, stuck in limbo since the fall of the regime, and waiting to find out if they can resettle in their native countries. Men, women and children are housed in cramped quarters with very little except the clothes they came with; there is a critical lack of nutritious food and clean water for drinking or hygiene needs.
With the close quarters and unhygienic conditions, the risk of infectious diseases is alarmingly high. Cases of infectious bronchitis, TB and scabies, which are highly communicable, have been reported among the population. More than a quarter of the women at the facility are pregnant but not getting the nutrients or medical care they need.
With GE’s support, International Medical Corps is providing a mobile health team twice a week at the center. Families are able to get health check-ups with a doctor on-site as well as essential medications and supplements such as folic acid for pregnant women. International Medical Corps’ Dr. Sassi who supports Bursharda Center reports that people here are prone to disease and malnutrition. “Bad food. Bad water. Harsh temperatures. 60 people in the same room. It is easy to see that if one has a virus, pretty soon all of them will have the same. It’s easy for it to become an epidemic.”
As Mary waits for a check-up for Alimah she explains that for days they’ve eaten just rice and oil and there’s green algae in the water they drink. I can see Alimah is suffering from a stuffy nose and bad cough. Mary says she’s very nervous that Alimah may have contracted TB – she’s relieved to hear from Dr. Sassi that it’s just a respiratory infection that can easily be treated.
Dr. Sassi is able to give Mary and Alimah an antibiotic and vitamins as well as health advice on how to prevent infections under the conditions they’re in. As Mary and Alimah leave the clinic, they pass a long queue of patients waiting for Dr. Sassi. Their story is a small success in this challenging environment.