SCARBOROUGH – Even before anti-Gadhafi forces stormed Tripoli earlier this week, Libyan hospitals were already overwhelmed, understaffed and short on supplies.

But the daily firefights in Tripoli, a densely populated capital city of 2 million people, have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

Partners for World Health, which took nine local nurses to Libya last month to provide training and supplies to the country’s ravaged health care system, hopes to continue to help. On Friday, it began selling “Free Libya” bracelets for $5 to raise money to ship basic medical supplies to Libyan hospitals.

Elizabeth McLellan, a nurse and the founder of Partners for World Health, a Scarborough-based nonprofit, said the group is planning a shipment weighing thousands of pounds.

The cargo includes large items such as examination tables, stretchers and wheel chairs, plus smaller but equally essential items such as syringes, gauze, soap, linens, microscopes, IV tubing, slings and respiratory equipment.

“It’s not just freedom fighters who need the treatment,” McLellan said Friday. “The hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and people who aren’t soldiers, but who have been injured because of the battles going on.

“In addition to that, just because you’re having a revolution doesn’t mean general health care problems go away. There’s still heart attacks, driving accidents, appendixes bursting . . . and there’s not enough people or supplies to care for these people.”

Partners for World Health recycles outdated medical supplies from local hospitals, which otherwise would be thrown away. It plans to air-freight the shipment, but that can cost as much as $4 per pound.

McLellan is negotiating with airlines for a discount, but even if she does, there are transportation fees to get the medical equipment to the Boston airport, and from Tunisia to the hospitals once the plane lands in North Africa.

The shipment will likely fly from Boston to Paris and Paris to Tunisia, before being driven into Tripoli. “So we could use the money,” McLellan said, adding “this won’t be the last shipment.”

Marybeth Hayes and Kim L’Heureux, two local nurses who went on the July aid mission, conceived of the bracelets as a way to raise money. As they rumbled through the Libyan desert on their way to Cairo to catch a flight back to the United States, the duo contemplated how to thank the Libyan Community Association of Oregon, which helped plan the trip with Partners for World Health.

The Oregon group arranged for protection, translators, travel and accommodations that allowed the nurses to train hundreds of medical students and deliver the much-needed supplies.

“We eventually decided there was no real ‘thank you’ gesture that could express just how deeply appreciative we were,” said Hayes, who’s on temporary assignment in North Carolina but worked 12 years at Spring Harbor Hospital.

“The only thing we could do to really express our gratitude was continue to help. . . . The bracelets made sense.”

The bracelets, which have the words “Free Libya” etched into them, are red, black and green like the colors of the Libyan flag.

People interested in purchasing them can contact Hayes at [email protected], or send checks payable to Partners for World Health to MB Hayes, P.O. Box 384, Creedmoor, N.C. 27522.

“I can just picture the situation,” Hayes said of Libya on Friday.

“They have these beautiful buildings and no basic supplies like normal saline. I saw all their frozen assets have been freed up, but it’ll take time to get there.

“In the meantime, supply lines are disrupted. So they just need basic medical supplies. It just seems like something we should do as basic human beings who care for one another.”

Partners for World Health is also planning a second trip to Libya to provide more supplies and training. McLellan hopes it happens by October, or preferably sooner.

People are willing, she said, but she needs surgeons and emergency room nurses and doctors, and getting time off and everyone’s schedules coordinated is difficult. “Ideally, I’d like to leave tomorrow,” she said.

In the meantime, the group will send supplies, while a group from Boston, which is joining with Partners for World Health, will hand-deliver medicine.

Partners for World Health will also present photos and lessons from their July trip at 6 p.m. on Sept. 6 at the nonprofit’s headquarters in Scarborough. The event is open to the public.

Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or:

[email protected]