Friday, February 15, 2013

MGH hosts Libyan health leaders


BUILDING BRIDGES: From left, Kerry, Bugaighis, Stevens and Burke


In times of medical crisis, access to immediate emergency care is critical to saving lives. For the people of post-revolution Libya, emergency care and support infrastructure are virtually nonexistent as the country faces a number of challenges to meet the basic health care needs of its people. From Feb. 11 to Feb. 13, the MGH Division of Global Health and Human Rights hosted leaders from the Benghazi Medical Center (BMC) to discuss a collaboration to aid BMC in its efforts to establish itself as a center of excellence for emergency care for Benghazi and for all of Eastern Libya.

The trip to Boston was highlighted by a global health seminar, “Health and Human Rights in Post-Revolution Libya,” Feb. 12 in the O’Keeffe Auditorium, which included remarks by Thomas Burke, MD, director of the Division of Global Health and Human Rights in Emergency Medicine at MGH; Laila Taher Bugaighis, lead gynecologist and deputy director general of BMC; Vanessa Bradford Kerry, MD, MSc, associate director for partnerships and global initiatives at the MGH Center for Global Health; and Anne Stevens, MD, pediatric rheumatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, who is the sister of the late U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens who died tragically during an attack in Benghazi Sept. 11, 2012. Burke, who was in Benghazi during the time of the attack and had planned to meet with Ambassador Stevens the following day, invited Dr. Stevens to reflect on her brother’s life and legacy.

“My brother Chris had a lifelong passion for the people and the culture of the Middle East,” said Stevens. “He believed that the new Libya would thrive if we supported the development of public and private collaborations. In the spirit of Chris’s life, we’re building bridges between our hospitals, and I hope this will be one of many new bridges between our countries.”

 During the seminar, Bugaighis spoke about her experiences growing up in Libya, the struggles and injustices her family faced and her efforts as a physician-leader to improve health care in Benghazi.

“[Under Kaddafi’s regime] there was no proper health care, no education. Life really changed in Libya,” she said, noting that though they were able to open BMC in 2009, it came decades after construction of the major hospital complex first began in 1973. “Health care in Libya for the past 20 years is one of the institutions that was destroyed by extreme corruption and lack of funds.”

While Libya is still in a state of transition and there is much work ahead, Bugaighis described the initial steps her team has taken and outlined her vision of how a viable health care system can be an important foundation on which to build and advance. “We’ve managed to put together a plan to train our doctors, to build up a cadre of paramedics and emergency physicians and to help build emergency services at Benghazi,” she said. “Working to rebuild health care is one the very important things that’s going to help us in peace-building and reconciliation because it’s going to give our people one of the basic civil and human rights that they deserve.”

Burke said that great promise lay in a cross medical center collaboration among the MGH, Seattle Children’s Hospital and BMC. “We’re looking forward to working together and really focusing on what we all share – a great respect for the vital role of a responsive and high quality health care system and the dignity of human rights.” 

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