Health and Welfare
A government advertisement appearing in an international publication in 1977 asserted that the Libyan social security legislation of 1973 ranked among the most comprehensive in the world and that it protected all citizens from many hazards associated with employment. The social security program instituted in 1957 had already provided protection superior to that available in many or most developing countries, and in the 1980s the welfare available to Libyans included much more than was provided under the social security law: work injury and sickness compensation and disability, retirement, and survivors' pensions. Workers employed by foreign firms were entitled to the same social security benefits as workers employed by Libyan citizens.
Subsidized food, inexpensive housing, free medical care and education, and profit-sharing were among the benefits that eased the lives of all citizens. The government protected the employed in their jobs and subsidized the underemployed and unemployed. In addition, there were nurseries to care for the children of working mothers, orphanages for homeless children, and homes for the aged. The welfare programs had reached even the oasis towns of the desert, where they reportedly were received with considerable satisfaction. The giving of alms to the poor remained one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, but the extent of public welfare was such that there was increasingly less place for private welfare. Nonetheless, the traditional Arab sense of family responsibility remained strong, and provision for needy relatives was still a common practice.
The number of physicians and surgeons in practice increased fivefold between 1965 and 1974, and large increases were registered in the number of dentists, medical, and paramedical personnel. Further expansion and improvement followed over the next decade in response to large budgetary outlays, as the revolutionary regime continued to use its oil income to improve the health and welfare of all Libyans. The number of doctors and dentists increased from 783 in 1970 to 5,450 in 1985, producing in the case of doctors a ratio of 1 per 673 citizens. These doctors were attached to a comprehensive network of health care facilities that dispensed free medical care. The number of hospital beds increased from 7,500 in 1970 to almost 20,000 by 1985, an improvement from 3.5 beds to 5.3 beds per 1,000 citizens. During the same years, substantial increases were also registered in the number of clinics and health care centers.
A large proportion of medical and paramedical personnel were foreigners brought in under contract from other Arab countries and from Eastern Europe. The major efforts to "Libyanize" health care professionals, however, were beginning to show results in the mid1980s . Libyan sources claimed that approximately 33 percent of all doctors were nationals in 1985, as compared with only about 6 percent a decade earlier. In the field of nursing staff and technicians, the situation was considerably better--about 80 percent were Libyan. Schools of nursing had been in existence since the early 1960s, and the faculties of medicine in the universities at Tripoli and Benghazi included specialized institutes for nurses and technicians. The first medical school was not established until 1970, and there was no school of dentistry until 1974. By 1978 a total of nearly 500 students was enrolled in medical studies at schools in Benghazi and Tripoli, and the dental school in Benghazi had graduated its first class of 23 students. In addition, some students were pursuing graduate medical studies abroad, but in the immediate future Libya was expected to continue to rely heavily on expatriate medical personnel.
Among the major health hazards endemic in the country in the 1970s were typhoid and paratyphoid, infectious hepatitis, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, schistosomiasis, and venereal diseases. Also reported as having high incidence were various childhood diseases, such as whooping cough, mumps, measles, and chicken pox. Cholera occurred intermittently and, although malaria was regarded as having been eliminated in the 1960s, malaria suppressants were often recommended for use in desert oasis areas.
By the early 1980s, it was claimed that most or all of these diseases were under control. A high rate of trachoma formerly left 10 percent or more of the population blinded or with critically impaired vision, but by the late 1970s the disease appeared to have been brought under control. The incidence of new cases of tuberculosis was reduced by nearly half between 1969 and 1976, and twenty-two new centers for tuberculosis care were constructed between 1970 and 1985. By the early 1980s, two rehabilitation centers for the handicapped had been built, one each in Benghazi and Tripoli. These offered both medical and job-training services and complemented the range of health care services available in the country.
The streets of Tripoli and Benghazi were kept scrupulously clean, and drinking water in these cities was of good quality. The government had made significant efforts to provide safe water. In summing up accomplishments since 1970, officials listed almost 1,500 wells drilled and more than 900 reservoirs in service in 1985, in addition to 9,000 kilometers of potable water networks and 44 desalination plants. Sewage disposal had also received considerable attention, twenty-eight treatment plants having been built.
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