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On the alert: WHO trains Libyans to prevent and control deadly diseases

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22 August 2019 – “I feel like I’m a health policeman, protecting people,” says Hussein Awami, a health worker in Benghazi, eastern Libya. “I want to protect my country from polio and all infectious diseases.”

A disease surveillance officer in Libya, Awami responds to calls and texts from health centres. If a type of paralysis that can indicate polio is suspected, “I go to see the child and do an examination, like having the child pull a pen to test the strength of their arm,” he says.

If Awami sees signs of acute flaccid paralysis, he collects stool samples and sends them on for testing. Thankfully, Libya has been polio free for years and remains so, but the health community knows it must be vigilant.

In summer 2019, WHO, in collaboration with the Libya’s National Centre for Disease Control, held workshops for more than 80 health specialists in Libya who monitor cases in order to prevent and control disease outbreaks. The workshops provided refresher training on how to accurately report on cases of measles, acute flaccid paralysis, and other diseases, so that WHO, health authorities and partners could quickly respond.

Arwa Ben Omran, a pediatrician at a polyclinic near Tripoli, just began working as a surveillance officer. Her phone number will be available in health facilities so that physicians can call her when they suspect certain diseases. “Whatever time it is, I’ll get in the car,” she says.

WHO Libya also provides support to transport, ship and test laboratory specimens, all while keeping them cold. If surveillance officers need help getting samples from one area to a laboratory, WHO works with national health authorities to make it happen.

Hussein Awami quickly put his expanded knowledge to work. When measles broke out among migrant children in a detention centre near Benghazi, WHO and other groups offered treatment, while Hussein worked with local authorities to get the remaining children vaccinated.

The surveillance officers’ commitment keeps the process going. “I want to help my people. I’ve always loved children,” says Dr Ben Omran. “My country—we’re in a time when everyone HAS to help.”