Doctors brave fighting to help their homeland

Libyan doctor Tareq Etri had no hesitation about returning to his homeland to help out in its hour of need.

Having spent two weeks in the war-torn country in May setting up an intensive care unit close to what was then the front line in the uprising by rebels against tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, the 46-year-old felt compelled to return a second time.

Dr Etri, a paediatric associate specialist at North Tyneside General Hospital, flew out on August 1 and spent almost a month at the hospital in Jadu, at times coming under direct attack from missiles fired by Gaddafi’s forces.

“Libya is my homeland,” said the father of five. “All my family apart from my wife and kids are there.

“I felt I had to do it. It was a duty, and it’s something I didn’t mind doing.

“When Libya called, I just felt I had to be there.”

Dr Etri, of North Shields, was part of a team of international medics involved in setting up eight field hospitals close to the fighting, as well as manning the accident and emergency department in Jadu, treating adults as well as children.

He said: “Half of my work was with children. With the emergency situation there, it was 50-50. I had clinics for kids and families.

“I dealt with common children’s conditions and also those caused by stress and trauma, as well as war-related injuries, both physical and mental.”

However, what shocked Dr Etri the most was how hospitals were in the line of fire and were often the first to be targeted.

He said: “I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared for what it was really like. I don’t think anybody would have dreamed of how bad it was.

“These were overcrowded cities being hit by Grad missiles. I never thought somebody would do that, that the first targets would be hospital buildings.

“I visited three cities, and the scenario was the same. I found that shocking. It was unexpected.

“It was frightening. I was based at a hospital in Jadu which came under direct attack. It’s one of the most overcrowded cities as people fleeing Tripoli come there to stay with relatives.

“The hospital was overcrowded with patients.

“We had missiles fired at the hospital. I was very fearful about myself and the people I was looking after and not knowing what was going to happen.

“I wasn’t expecting any of that. I thought I would be treated like a doctor. I thought that because I was wearing my white coat, everyone would respect me.

“I don’t think anybody, even those who support Gaddafi, believed he would end up doing this, firing missiles at hospital buildings.”

Dr Etri is appealing to North Tynesiders to continue to support Libya and help its people rebuild their country.

He added: “This is about Libya. I’m not hoping to be a hero. I want everyone to know one thing – Libya needs help.

“The hard stage has just started. The war is the easy bit – although it’s terrible when people are killed. It’s what comes after that that takes time. Libya needs all the help it can get.”

One of Dr Etri’s colleagues at the children’s ward of the North Shields hospital, fellow Libyan Dr Abdubaker Akak, has just set off for Tripoli.

Dr Akak, a consultant paediatrician, will be helping out in the emergency department of The Brothers hospital in the Libyan capital.

The 57-year-old lives in Newcastle with his wife and five children, but his mother, brothers and other members of his family are still in Tripoli, where he was born and trained to be a doctor.

He is taking medical equipment supplied by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Akak said: “The eyes of the world are on Libya at the moment where my people are suffering, and I am so grateful to my colleagues who are sending me equipment and those who gave up their free time to help me pack.

“I am so proud to work somewhere in which people are giving their time to help my people.

“The equipment will benefit those affected by the fighting.”