By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - With a total 10 cases and one death, fears are mounting about the ability of Libya's weakened health services to respond to the novel coronavirus, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said Friday.
"One year since the launch of a military offensive in Tripoli, Libya, fighting is further worsening with COVID-19 now bringing new threats," said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch.
"Daily life is becoming increasingly difficult for people across conflict-torn Libya," he said.
Speaking from Geneva at a virtual UN press briefing, Baloch said that more than 300 civilians had been killed and 150,000 others displaced from their homes since April last year in the North African country.
"Despite the tentative agreement on a humanitarian truce, fighting escalated significantly in the past week.
"The deteriorating security has also undermined the ability of the tens of thousands of formerly displaced persons to return to their areas of origin safely," he said.
While noting the new toll for the virus, Baloch said the UNHCR and its partners were providing generators, ambulances, prefab-containers and tented clinics to support local health care services.
"The ongoing conflict has severely impacted the country's health system and medical services, which have limited financial resources and face shortages of basic equipment and medicines.
"Many hospitals or health facilities located in areas close to the conflict have also been damaged or closed," said Baloch.
Along with other humanitarian agencies, the UNHCR said it was calling on Libyan authorities to ensure access and inclusion of all population groups in the country to health surveillance, preparedness, response plans and activities.
"Asylum-seekers and refugees held in detention because they do not have legal documentation, are particularly vulnerable and exposed, often given poor sanitation facilities, limited health services and overcrowded conditions," said Baloch, joining calls by other UN agencies.
He explained that many detention centers were in areas close to active frontlines in the ongoing conflict in the country.
"Libyan civilians, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, face tough challenges in accessing basic goods and services or finding work," said the UNHCR spokesman.
Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: renegade general Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys UN and international recognition.
The GNA has been under attack by Haftar's forces since last April, with more than 1,000 killed in the violence.
International efforts to reach a ceasefire have been stymied by Haftar's side flouting the process.After first appearing in Wuhan, China in December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 181 countries and regions.
Data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University shows worldwide infections surging past 1 million, with more than 55,100 deaths. Over 221,200 people have recovered.