Marc Bastian, AFP
Last updated: 26 August, 2011

Tripoli hospital horror as patients die untreated

When the 10-year-old boy was shot in the back outside Moamer Kadhafi’s compound in the Libyan capital, he could never have imagined the even worse horror that awaited him when he got to hospital.

For days he lay unattended, as the hospital had been commandeered by Kadhafi snipers, most of the medical staff had fled in fear, and people around him died by the scores for lack of treatment.

On Friday, he lay on a stretcher inside an ambulance, one of 17 survivors being evacuated by the Red Cross, in too much pain to talk.

His weeping parents were beside themselves amid the stench of dozens of decomposing bodies.

“My son was wounded outside Bab al-Aziziya, but we didn’t know where he had been taken,” his father said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen him in five days. But today we have got him back.”

However long it might take the boy to recover from his wounds, he is likely to suffer nightmares about his time in the hospital for years to come.

Rebels had swarmed into the capital over the weekend and by Wednesday had seized control of most of Tripoli.

But the hospital is located in the generally pro-Kadhafi neighbourhood of Abu Slim, and loyalist snipers had held it since Saturday.

With the Kadhafi sharpshooters in control, ultimately no one could, or dared, come in or out.

Abu Slim saw fierce fighting for days, and it was only on Thursday that the hospital was secured.

As the days passed, many patients inside died, one after another.

The scene in the three-storey hospital was macabre.

Scores of putrefying corpses were lying all around, dead from lack of treatment.

On Friday, an AFP correspondent counted some 80 of them, though Mohammed Yunis, a medical-student-turned-nurse, said many more had already been removed.

“There have been hundreds of deaths (in Tripoli) in recent days,” he said, visibly shaken.

“It is a disaster,” he said. “There is no more medicine in the hospital, no more medical personnel. They all left for fear of the snipers.”

Without air conditioning, the survivors waited for days in the heat as the stench of decomposing and bloated bodies grew. The basement morgue was overflowing with corpses, and the air was virtually unbreathable.

Twenty bodies were piled on the grass in the garden outside, and one was still lying on a bloody gurney outside the emergency ward.

At the end of one corridor, spattered with blood and littered with empty water and medicine bottles and other debris, lay a ward with 25 bodies, the floor covered with a thin film of bodily fluids.

Abdel Abdel Rahman is one of just two nurses and one doctor who remained holed up in the hospital throughout the ordeal.

He does not remember how many people he saw die before his eyes — civilians, loyalist soldiers and rebels.

Without electricity, bandages, oxygen, medicines and other supplies, he said there was no way for three people to treat everyone.

Asked how felt, he said nothing.

As for the 17 survivors, a Red Cross worker said they would be taken to the capital’s central hospital, which is still functioning.