Since 2011, Libya has witnessed several waves of conflict, with episodic escalation across different regions. Following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Libya by end of March 2020, the country has seen a steep increase in the number of confirmed cases. By the end of December 2020, Libya has recorded more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The capacity of the health system to effectively respond to the pandemic has been affected by more than nine years of conflict, resulting in nearly half of all primary health care facilities in the country being closed.
The protracted conflict in Libya has led to a humanitarian emergency across the country, with an estimated 1.3 million people identified as in need of humanitarian assistance in the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (a 40% increase compared to 2020) – of which 23% are women, 35% children and 15% people with disabilities. Moreover, the HNO’s projected figures estimate that approximately 1.8 million people will be in need by mid-2021.
To respond to the population’s psychological needs during the conflict in Libya and the Covid-19 pandemic ACTED implemented a helpline to support people through the phone. This was part of ACTED’s protection program funded by UNCHR and UNICEF. Lubna is based in Benghazi, she has worked for ACTED since 2018 and became a Case Management Officer for mre than a year.
The magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise no matter the country they live in and Libya was no exception. In Benghazi, the population was prone to concern and anxiety, they lacked answers to their questions and people to listen to their fears about an uncertain future.
“Many people are losing jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, so they are anxious about the future and they struggle to deal not only with stress caused by the pandemic but also with anxiety about the near future. Some callers ask me what the future is going to be like.”
Before the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, callers reported feeling anxious because of the ongoing armed conflict; and having to deal with a global pandemic on top of that has now led to a further increase in stress and anxiety.
When answering calls on the ACTED helpline, Lubna discusses the needs of beneficiaries to identify suitable service providers for them. She is also an attentive and caring listener who provides guidance and support to distressed callers in need of reassurance during this time of crisis.
Yet, she also notices that many people may not feel comfortable talking about the current COVID-19 outbreak.
“It can be hard to talk about something you are afraid of and would rather ignore.”
The challenge here is to engage in a casual conversation with the caller, make them feel comfortable enough to talk about a difficult subject and about their feelings towards it.
As the COVID-19 outbreak started to unfold in Libya, Lubna had to work from home. But managing the protection helpline from home is no easy thing.
“When I work at the office, it is easier to separate my personal life from the helpline work. But at home, the separation is blurred and it can take a toll on my mental wellbeing.”
Lubna’s work is essential to provide key information about Covid-19 and reassurance to a population already affected by experiences as traumatic as conflicts and displacement. By referring callers to external service providers, she has been able to support many people in need. ACTED’s ongoing referral response has cultivated an extensive network with local service providers for health, psychosocial support, disability, legal assistance, survivors of gender-based among others in the Benghazi area.
She helped a driver who had lost his only source of income as he could not work anymore during the confinement and therefore needed food and cash support to feed his family. Lubna also reassured a displaced woman who had recently arrived in Benghazi and was afraid of being evicted by her landlord as she couldn’t pay her rent anymore.
ACTED’s protection helpline was established in Benghazi in 2018 and provides a confidential and accessible mechanism for persons of concern to register themselves for improved access to services within Benghazi. It consists of two dedicated toll-free numbers with the two main telecommunications companies in Libya which can be accessed via phone call, apps or SMS. The helpline is operational during working hours and is operated by protection staff trained in identifying, screening and assessing protection risks and providing Psychological First Aid.