Interview with Dr. Morten Rostrup on the situation in Zintan, Libya

Since 30 April, an MSF team is working in the hospital of Zintan, a city located in western Libya, south west of the capital of Tripoli, in the Nafusah Mountain region. For weeks now, Zintan and the surrounding area have been the battleground between pro-Gaddafi forces and the insurgency, fighting over this region of strategic importance, resulting in clashes over the Tunisian border of Dehiba at the beginning of April. More than 40,000 Libyans are reported to have fled the region to Tunisia since early May.  

In Zintan, the MSF team has been donating medical equipment and material, providing training to the medical staff and is currently supporting the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. MSF’s intensive care doctor, Dr Morten ROSTRUP, explains the situation on the ground and what MSF is doing.

What is MSF doing in Zintan at the moment?
MSF’s medical team is currently supporting the hospital with personnel (an MSF emergency coordinator nurse and an MSF intensive care doctor), medical equipment and medicines. The team has been training the medical personnel and taking part in the organisation of the mass casualty response of the hospital. Since the beginning of May, around 100 war-wounded have been admitted in the hospital, following clashes between pro-Gaddafi troops and the insurgency. Casualties from both camps are treated in the hospital.

An experienced trauma/war surgeon and an operating theatre and intensive care unit nurse will reinforce the team in coming days. The surgeon will be in charge of the emergency response, in addition to the supervision of the medical personnel, and will take part in the clinical work, the referral and the triage of patients, while the nurse will be in charge of the emergency room and assist in the clinical work in the operating theatre and the intensive care unit.

What type of wounds do you see as a result of conflict?
Most patients have gunshot wounds and some are suffering from exposure to explosions with shrapnel wounds. We have had numerous abdominal traumas, some of them severe with internal bleedings and perforations of the intestines. We have also had some chest injuries due to gunshots, head injuries and numerous fractures due to bullets.

Are the medical facilities able to cope?
The medical personnel has been able to cope, but there is a need for more specialists. For the past two weeks, we have been working with the hospital staff in order to improve the response to mass casualties. We are currently reorganizing the Intensive Care Unit in order to better cope with the influx of patients. The arrival of the trauma/war surgeon will reinforce the system we have put in place.

What is the current situation in the city and surrounding areas?
The situation is calm now, but shelling has been ongoing in Zintan. Many families have fled to Tunisia over the past couple of weeks, while some have recently started coming back. Still, some people continue to seek refuge in caves in the city due to shelling. There is general lack of food diversity, most of the shops are closed, but there is water and electricity. We have not yet been able to do any assessment outside the city, but we are concerned about the lack of access to health care in neighbouring cities.