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After the Floods: Protecting Mental Health in Libya

Health worker in Libya

Suhaib Shaheen, 34, a surgical specialist at Al Wahda Teaching Hospital in Derna, Libya. credit: WHO EMRO

Good mental health is essential to realizing the right to health. In the wake of emergencies the trauma of personal loss, grief and injury, if left unsupported, can lead to large scale anxiety and post-traumatic stress. As Emanuele Capobianco, the WHO Foundation’s Chief, Strategy and Impact, writes to mark this year’s #WorldMentalHealthDay, support for mental health in emergencies is an increasingly recognized priority. This includes acknowledging the strain on the health workers and humanitarian workers who operate in emotionally challenging environments, and offer support to people in great distress. Healthcare workers in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, understand this better than most. Few people in the city of 90,000 have been untouched by the epic scale of flooding in September that washed up to 20,000 people away, with more than 4,000 confirmed dead, and thousands still missing. Suhaib Shaheen, 34, is a surgical specialist at Al Wahda Teaching Hospital. His mother and brother were killed in the floods. Despite this, he continued to operate on injured patients.”I was treating wounds while my own pain was not healed,” he said. *

Mustafa Zaatout, is a 26-year-old laboratory technician at the same hospital. He was working on the morning of the floods, when a young child came into the hospital alone. “As long as I live I will never forget the six-year-old girl looking for her mother and father,” he said, his voice trembling, “you feel shocked and afraid.” He found out later that the girl’s parents and her brothers had died.


Health workers operate in emotionally challenging environments. “This is our duty” says Sahar Al-Fakhkhari, a nurse at the Omar Al-Mukhtar clinic in Derna, who lost more than 10 members of her own family in Libya’s flooding. Credit: WHO EMRO


WHO is helping people recover 

Responding to the mental health needs of the people affected by Libya’s flooding is recognized by WHO and other UN agencies as an urgent priority.

WHO has released $2.3 million in funds and requested an additional $11.1 million to maintain and restore public health services and support psychosocial needs in Libya. Among a range of interventions to restore public health:

  • WHO is supporting the deployment of a doctor trained in mental health needs to provide services  in Al-Wadha Hospital in Derna.
  • WHO-trained mental health supervisors are monitoring the work of mental health support teams in the city. 
  • WHO is working closely with health authorities to assess longer-term public health needs, including psychosocial services.

* Original interviews by Dr. Alyaa Mohamed.

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Anna Egan

October 10, 2023, 6 min. read
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