Thrush witnesses struggles, hope during Libya trip

Just months after the end of a bloody civil war that led to the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Thrush spent 15 days in Libya this May with the humanitarian organization International Medical Corps (IMC). The opportunity came about thanks to his work with the APTA’s global health special interest group.

Thrush and other therapists provided three-day educational sessions for Libyan physiotherapists at Misrata Polyclinic in Misrata, Ibn Sina Hopsital in Sirte and Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi.

“The module that we taught was called ‘Enhanced Recovery Training’,” says Thrush, “and the goal was to improve the knowledge, skills and aptitude of physiotherapists and the medical team to optimize the recovery of patients in their hospitals through improved physiotherapy services.”

The training was essential for a country that, according to Thrush, had relied on a large number foreign-born healthcare workers – a group that quickly fled during the civil war. This left hospitals in a dilapidated state, suffering from severe gaps in coverage and little or no infrastructure.

By teaching Libyan physiotherapists – many of whom have no formal therapy education – he and other IMC volunteers hoped to improve the physical therapy services provided throughout the still recovering country. Measuring such progress over a short period proved difficult at first for Thrush, though follow-up correspondence with IMC colleagues gave him a better perspective on their impact.

He notes that “Significant barriers exist, including the lack of standardized training and licensure requirements for therapists, poor understanding of the role of physiotherapy in a hospital setting, lack of resources given and no reading materials or other print resources available in their primary language.”

In spite of these barriers, “many therapists were eager to update their knowledge and skills and were grateful for the training IMC provided.”

His experiences in Libya have Thrush already planning for future work-abroad opportunities, as well as continuing his own education to expand the scope of his clinical care. The atmosphere in Libya, where no one was left unaffected, made a significant impact on him.

“Every person I met had fought or experienced the violence firsthand and the staff members at the hospital were working 24 hours a day.”

Despite the laundry list of challenges facing physiotherapists in postwar Libya, the tone of the people Thrush met and helped educate seemed to offer the most hope for change.

“There was a sense of solidarity and excitement with the people,” he says. “After 42 years, they were finally witnessing freedom.”