Libyan children’s life should not be held hostage by politics

By Vanessa Tomassini.

Children should never be hostage or at the center of political disputes, especially when their health is at stake, as an inalienable right of each person. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989, states that “the member states recognize the right of minors to enjoy the best possible state of health and to benefit from medical and rehabilitation services. They strive to ensure that no minors are deprived of the right to have access to such services”. The same Convention adds: “States parties’ endeavor to guarantee the full implementation of the aforementioned law and in particular take all appropriate measures to: a) reduce mortality among infants and children; b) ensure all minors medical assistance and the necessary health care, with particular attention to the development of primary health care”.

And again: “The States parties adopt every effective measure aimed at abolishing traditional practices that are detrimental to the health of minors. They undertake to foster and encourage international cooperation with a view to gradually achieving full implementation of the right recognized in this article. To this end, the needs of developing countries will be taken into particular consideration.” All this does not seem to apply when Libyan children are sick, in particular those suffering from rare, degenerative diseases such as tumors, cancer or leukemia, who in their country in 2022 do not have access to the necessary basic care. And they are therefore sentenced to death if not urgently transferred abroad. The international community has large historical responsibilities for the conditions the Libyan health sector is currently facing.

Over the years, the Libyan government has signed dozens of agreements with various States, including Italy, Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan, on health cooperation. The dossier was at the center of recent discussions between the French ambassador to Libya and the Government of National Unity. The Development Cooperation program of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated 2 million euros this year to guarantee life-saving treatment in Libya, welcoming dozens of Libyan patients, including minors, in Italian hospitals. They have huge debts towards the Libyan state, which, for countless reasons, is struggling to pay.

On Wednesday, the deputy director of the children’s hospital in Benghazi, Salah Al-Amrouni, indicated that nine children with cancer had died from mid-September to 7 November. The Libyan Ministry of Health has set up a committee to establish the health conditions of minor cancer patients for their treatment abroad, but since April 2021, it seems that no case has traveled out of Libya due to lack of funds. Some patients and their families have reached neighboring Tunisia, where the clinics, not seeing their economic bills paid by Libyan institutions, have often suspended the acceptance of Libyan patients. Some families have declared that they have returned to Libya after countless vicissitudes. In March 2021, Ms. Mabruka contacted us about her three-year-old son suffering from a severe form of cancer, who had reached such an advanced stadium that deformed his face. A pediatric hospital in Tunis demanded 150 dinars (about 45 euros) just to view the clinical records without even seeing the child. After contacting the Italian authorities, the Misurata field hospital immediately offered to visit him, however the transfer to Italy was impossible due to the serious condition of the child, who died a few days later at the Misurata General Hospital.

Months ago, Mr. Osama contacted us, alarmed for his son Faraj Qaed, 5, from Sirte, suffering from two forms of cancer, received health treatment at the King Hussein Hospital in Amman, considered an excellence in the Middle East. However, the latest medical report states that Faraj did not receive the 10th round of chemo, which has to start on October 10, 2022, due to lack of financial coverage. Sources from the Libyan government said they had pledged to pay for the treatment of little Faraj Qaed at the Jordanian hospital. However, the father insists that King Hussein Hospital has suspended treatment for over a month. Faraj is not even in hospital today, while other cancer patients would have died due to the interruption of treatment in Amman. After several attempts, from Tripoli they admitted that the “Libyan government always pays for the care of its patients. The foreign clinics that receive Libyan citizens are often private facilities and require up tp 30% advance payment for the acceptance and granting of visas. After the Libyan Parliament blocked the budget, the Libyan government does not have the necessary funds to pay for Faraj’s treatment”. This is not the time to ask whether it is true or not that an oil-producing country has funds or not, if Libyan officials prefer to spend the resources at their disposal in other ways, the only topic we should all ask ourselves today is: how can we save the life of Faraj and of every Libyan child who does not have access to treatment.

There are many inexplicable points in this story. But what makes more species is how Jordanian doctors have been able to suspend chemo-therapy or alternative drug treatment for a 5-year-old boy. In this regard, it should be remembered that the Hippocratic Oath, signed by every doctor, states: “Aware of the importance and solemnity of the act I assume and the commitment I undertake, I swear: to practice medicine in freedom and independence of judgment and behavior, avoiding any undue influence; to pursue the defense of life, the protection of man’s physical and mental health and the relief of suffering, to which I will inspire all my professional acts with responsibility and constant scientific, cultural and social commitment; to treat every patient with equal care and commitment, regardless of ethnicity, religion, nationality, social condition and political ideology and promoting the elimination of all forms of discrimination in the health field; never to carry out acts capable of deliberately causing the death of a person.” The suspension of chemotherapy or equivalent drug treatment in a patient suffering from leukemia means condemning him to death.

Without going into the merits of accusations of corruption and gains by Libyan officials on the skin of patients, it would seem that the case of Libyan minors abroad for life-saving treatments are exploited for political purposes both internally, in the internal struggle for power between two executives, and between nations. Children’s life should never become a bargaining chip, subject to blackmail in the political tug-of-war. Libyan political actors, including financial, military, oil institutions, need to do everything possible to save the life of every child like Faraj. Every doctor should do his job according to the principles he has sworn by. Each state should live up to its international commitments to protect the life, health and well-being of children regardless of their race, origin or belief. Life is the most precious asset we have. Please, let’s stay human.

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