Duty calls surgeon from England to Libya war zone

1st April 2011, Comments 0 comments

As the sun broke over the Mediterranean, Dr Ramadan knelt to pray on a fishing boat on the last leg of his journey from rural England to the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, 215 kilometres (130 miles) east of Tripoli.

"This is my country and I feel it is my duty to come and see my people and help them and be with them in hard days," the cardio-thoracic surgeon, who asked that his hometown and surname be withheld for security reasons, told AFP.

"This is the land where I was born. I went to school and university here. I have many friends in Misrata," he said, speaking aboard a fishing trawler that ferried 150 tons of food and medical aid into the city this week.

Ramadan is one of around 2,000 Libyan consultants working in Britain, who left a health system in decline under the rule of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Along with other Libyan specialists spread around the world, some are now returning to their homeland on humanitarian missions amid a raging conflict.

"Because of the systematic destruction of the medical service in Libya, I was unable to carry on," said the surgeon, who was previously based at a cardiac surgery centre around 100 kilometres east of Tripoli.

"I'm coming to help for emergency injuries. Mostly lung and heart surgery. I also have experience in intensive care units," he said.

Medical staff say an estimated 200 people have been confirmed killed in the conflict in the city so far, but opposition forces say many lie dead in areas that are too contested to access. Around 1,500 people have been wounded.

Dr Ramadan also worked in the opposition-held eastern Libyan city of Benghazi earlier this month when the emergency there was at its peak.

"There was a lot of fighting at the beginning with lots of injuries, lots of dead. The intensive care unit was very, very, very primitive. They are doing better now that they are receiving aid from Egypt and others," he said.

"The problem now is Misrata and Zintan and other cities in the mountains."

Asked whether his family was concerned about his transition from a peaceful life in England to a war zone, he said: "My wife was encouraging me to go. She feels it is our duty to stand up for our people when they need us."

"I'm very emotional. It's a moment when you see the truth and reality and you feel and you see by your eyes how the people suffer," he said.

"This will be a unique experience in my life. I urge every one of my people outside Libya to see and to act according to what the situation is."

The surgeon said he began his medical career under the Libyan kingdom which was overthrown by Kadhafi in 1969 and says the health service has been on the way down since the time that the Libyan colonel took over.

"The only thing he wants is for people to worship him. That's why he can say about his people that they are all rats," he added.

"The three pillars of the state are education, the health service and security. Libya has the worst of these three things," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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