- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Libya’s new health minister says rampant corruption and nepotism have taken a “terrible toll” on the North African nation’s health care system.

Dr. Fatima Hamroush told The Washington Times that hospitals have been stretched to the breaking point by the thousands of people wounded in the eight-month uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year regime.

“I am not inheriting roses from the previous government. I am inheriting a very corrupt health care system,” Dr. Hamroush said in a phone interview from her home in Dublin.

“When corruption is on such a large scale, like an infectious disease, it is incompatible with progress.”

Last week, Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdurraheem al-Keib appointed a 24-member Cabinet with Dr. Hamroush, an ophthalmologist, as one of two female ministers in the government. The other is Mabrouka Jibril, who will serve as the minister of social affairs.

The Cabinet will run the interim government until the election of a national assembly in eight months.

Dr. Hamroush, who left Libya 17 years ago, said the health care system will require a major overhaul. “We have to have a clean start. It is not one man’s task. It is a colossal task,” she said.

Contracts to procure hospital equipment often are decided not on the basis of quality, but on the size of the bribe. Hospitals end up with defective equipment that hinder doctors’ abilities to do their jobs.

“The goal of those signing the hospital contracts is not to get the best services for the hospitals, but to get the best deals in their pockets,” said Dr. Hamroush. “That is why a lot of them are rich beyond imagination.”

When it comes to hiring hospital staff, social connections often trump qualifications, and that undermines the quality of care, she added.

High among Dr. Hamroush’s priorities is rooting out corruption and nepotism, but she acknowledges that such a task will take generations. “We have a lot of mess that we need to clean up. It is a very serious stage in our history,” she said.

One solution would be to enforce laws. “In Gadhafi’s time, no one feared being taken to task for corruption. They felt they were above the law,” she said.

Another of Dr. Hamroush’s priorities will be to ensure proper medical care for the thousands of people wounded in the uprising against Gadhafi. Those patients are among thousands sent to Ireland, the U.S. and other countries for treatment not available in Libya and to ease the pressure on Libyan hospitals.

“We will need to set up a system in the country that looks after them. Sending them abroad is an emergency measure,” Dr. Hamroush said.

Gadhafi’s regime was toppled by an uprising that started in February. The conflict continues to exact a toll on Libyans weeks after it ended. Unexploded bombs litter towns and cities.

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