Irish-based doctor who led Libya's health ministry was in fear for her life

Fri, Dec 7, 2012, 00:00

An Irish-based consultant ophthalmologist who became Libya’s health minister after the overthrow of Muammar Gadafy said she was left fearing for her life.

Dr Fatima Hamroush was based at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, Co Louth, until November last year, when she was appointed by Libya’s National Transition Council as the country’s health minister.

Dr Hamroush said in Dublin yesterday that she became a marked woman after attempting to deal with a massive fraud by bogus freedom fighters. At the end of her tenure last month, she was accompanied by eight armed guards carrying Kalashnikovs and she lived inside an army compound.

Back to Drogheda

Her original appointment was for eight months but it was extended for a year, which ended last month. She is back in Ireland and will return to her post in Drogheda in January.

At a conference yesterday hosted by the Irish College of Ophthalmologists, she recounted having to deal with major fraud in her short time in the ministry. One involved corruption that cost the Libyan state more than €1 billion in fraudulent payments to those who had claimed to have been wounded in the overthrow of Gadafy.

Others were getting payments to receive treatment abroad and the system was abused.

She said the scam was run by a different department. When it was brought to her attention, she put a stop to it.

“As part of my mission, I fought corruption, which was deeply rooted and was impossible to eradicate within eight months, but it was not impossible to expose, and that is what I achieved to a good extent.”

Accusation

She was then accused of denying medical treatment to those who had been involved in overthrowing the old regime. At one stage she was stopped by four armed men on the way to a television station and was saved because her drivers knew her putative kidnappers.

Dr Hamroush could no longer work at the ministry because of the security threat and she had to work from a guarded hotel. The experiences heightened her respect for Ireland.

“It is harder to maintain freedom than achieving it,” she said. “You are past that stage now. Libya is just starting.”