SCARBOROUGH — Most people have steered clear of Libya since a full-scale civil war erupted there in February. But nine nurses from the Portland area, in conjunction with Partners for World Health, a local nonprofit organization, will likely fly there on Monday to provide training and medical supplies to a struggling hospital in the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi.

Barring any last-second complications — which are a possibility in North Africa right now — the group will bring 500 pounds of medical supplies to the hospital, as well as expertise in pediatrics, orthopedics, geriatrics, psychiatry, surgery and emergency care.

The group hopes to establish a long-term relationship with the new rebel government, so it can help the country rebuild its devastated health-care system once the fighting ends.

“This isn’t a one-time thing,” said Elizabeth McLellan, the founder of Partners for World Health. “They have no supplies. By going there, we can get a better perspective of what they need. It’s a great opportunity to get them trained, get them supplies and help them rebuild.”

Benghazi is Libya’s second-largest city, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea about 600 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. Soon after the civil war began, the rebels fighting against dictator Moammar Gadhafi took control of Benghazi. Most of the fighting is now in the western part of the country, closer to the capital.

The idea for the Libya trip manifested this spring, when a Libyan-American woman from Massachusetts approached McLellan about bringing supplies and medical personnel to the rebels in Benghazi.

That trip fell through, but those conversations led McLellan to Jamal Tarhuni, a leader of the Libyan Community Association of Oregon. The two groups, along with Hope Relief International and Medical Relief International, organized the trip.

The group plans to leave Monday, but uncertainty in the Mideast could stymie their plans. They’re still trying to confirm flights from Cairo to Benghazi, a 675-mile stretch over vast desert.

Nonetheless, volunteers at Partners for World Health’s cavernous warehouse in Scarborough loaded medical supplies this week into colorful duffle bags. Each bag weighed exactly 49.5 pounds when packed, just enough to avoid extra fees.

Partners for World Health has nearly every medical supply imaginable, from basics like syringes, gauze and oxygen masks to high-tech surgical equipment, motorized wheelchairs and examination tables.

Several of the nurses who plan to make the trip are from Maine Medical Center in Portland. One is from Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook.

Vivien Russe, 66, who graduated from University of Southern Maine’s nursing program in May, is one of the nurses. As a recent graduate, she hasn’t landed a job, “but this is sort of what I’m interested in, going internationally and helping those in times of need.

“There’s definitely some risk because of the situation,” she said. “But hopefully, the fighting is more west than east. It’s my first trip to Africa, so this is definitely a big adventure for me.”

The group from Oregon, which plans to send several people, has been in contact with the National Transitional Council, the new government set up by the anti-Gadhafi forces. The nurses will have security 24 hours a day to transport them and protect them at the hospital and their hotel, McLellan said. The groups plan to return home on July 21.

McLellan said she hopes this trip will be just the first step in an ongoing partnership. Partners for World Health, which has hundreds of thousands of medical supplies at its warehouses, plans to ship more supplies and make future trips to help stabilize Libya’s health-care system once it can better assess the situation in Benghazi.

“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s at a place and time where it’s needed and we can really make an impact.”


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