A doctor in Lebanon describes the crisis he is witnessing. New Minister of Health responds


The government now only provides electricity for one or two hours a day, he explains, and with fuel shortages crippling the country, the hospital cannot power its back-up generators.

“The generators have been running for almost 22 or 23 hours a day, and that’s a really big problem because of the fuel consumption. So at one point we had to cut back on the services we provide to patients, ”he says.

“This unit had between 24 and 30 patients per day receiving chemotherapy, but today it is closed. We now have to close it two out of five days a week. So we have to take care of the same number of patients in a shorter period. ”

But Dr Ghanem says keeping up is the least of Lebanon’s problems.

A cancer patient waits for chemotherapy at a Beirut hospital.

Source: PA

Over the past two years, Lebanon has experienced what the World Bank describes as one of the world’s worst economic collapses since the mid-1800s.

Its currency has lost more than 90% of its value, plunging three quarters of the population into poverty.

Basic necessities, such as food and medicine, have become scarce, the elite import them from overseas, and many are deprived of them.

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Dr Ghanem says that even though they had enough fuel to power the hospital’s generators, they still don’t have the drugs his cancer patients need to fight their disease.

“These are very delicate situations that we face, because not only do we have to deliver bad news to patients about their disease and cancer, but now we also have to tell them that we do not have the drugs that they are. need.” he says.

“Now we are facing a situation where we have patients who have a very bad disease and are very vulnerable because of cancer, and we tell them to go and try to get their drugs overseas because we don’t. can’t get them here in Lebanon. “

Not only do we need to tell patients bad news about their disease and cancer, but we also need to tell them that we don’t have the drugs they need.

– Hady Ghanem, doctor

Lebanon was once nicknamed “the hospital of the Middle East” with people from all over the region flocking to seek treatment at its once internationally respected hospitals.

Today, drug shortages have led to an increase in hospitalizations for treatable illnesses such as basic infections, diabetes and high blood pressure.

For Dr Ghanem, there is little doubt in his mind about how Lebanon reached this point.

“My message to the government is to forget all the divisions and all the disparities and all the conflicts that they have – we are really in disaster mode, we are facing a huge crisis when it comes to patients – and let them think. just to have one of these patients as a family member, ”he says.

“This is an urgent call for these conflicts to be resolved. It is an urgent call for drugs to be brought to Lebanon because at present even the big pharmaceutical companies are unable to ship. their drugs in Lebanon because of these approvals from the Central Bank or the Ministry of Health. ”

Lebanon’s new Minister of Health responds

The Lebanese government resigned after the explosion last year in the port of Beirut on August 4. It killed 218 people, injured 6,500 others and left some 300,000 displaced.

The government has just been replaced, after months of infighting between Lebanese factions over power-sharing, which resulted in a 13-month standoff.

Formed as the country’s economic collapse reached its worst point yet, the new 24-member cabinet now faces an unparalleled task.

The new Lebanese Minister of Health, Firass Abiad.

Source: Provided

New health minister Dr Firass Abiad said his members were well aware of this.

“I think the most important thing the cabinet will do is restore some kind of trust, not only of the local community but especially of the international community,” he said.

“She will also have the opportunity to enter into very important negotiations with the IMF and others to provide the funds and support that we so badly need. All of this will obviously be aimed at alleviating some of the acute problems we face in different sectors. “

The most important thing Cabinet will do is restore some form of trust.

– Firass Abiad, Minister of Health

Prior to his appointment as health minister this month, Dr Abiad worked as a gastrointestinal surgeon and ran Lebanon’s largest public hospital.

He spoke openly about the impending collapse of the country’s healthcare system during the country’s worst COVID-19 pandemic, tweeting screenshots of text messages from his distressed staff and ringing the doorbell. alarm on drug shortages.

Now, that’s his problem to sort out.

“There have been a lot of fuel donations to hospitals from the international community, and it has helped some of these hospitals stay open,” he says.

“We’re also trying to see if we can focus the grants on what are considered life-saving drugs, cancer drugs, and we’re trying to organize a lot of the support that has been promised to us.”

The new Lebanese government has been presented as a government of technocrats; experts in their fields rather than career politicians.

Dr Abiad has extensive experience in running a hospital, the new Minister of Justice is a judge and the new Minister of Economy is an economist.

But each of the new ministers has been handpicked by the same political factions that have ruled Lebanon for decades and have brought it to this point of crisis.

Members of the new government at the presidential palace.

Source: Lebanese official government

“I think the Lebanese people are very skeptical of any government, even a technocratic government, they will be skeptical because they have had so many disappointments in the past,” Dr Abiad said.

“And I think regardless of what we say now, the Lebanese people will say that the proof is in the pudding, and it is now incumbent on us to show why we are different and to make the effort to give them the results that we are. they deserve. .”

“I think the new government has nothing to do. We have to put all our efforts, and if we work together I think we have high hopes of success.”

But some political analysts are not so confident.

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“These ministers were appointed, literally, by sectarian leaders and in accordance with the power-sharing agreement between sects in the country,” said Bashar el-Halabi, a Lebanese analyst with the consultancy firm ClipperData.

“This means that even if they might have the goodwill to adopt or implement certain reforms, if those reforms even go against the interests of the regime, they will simply fail as the previous government failed.”

Billions of dollars in aid have been pledged to Lebanon by the International Monetary Fund as well as by foreign donors since the onset of the economic crisis.

But all of this came with a catch: the government had to embark on reforms that would eliminate entrenched corrupt practices that have driven the country to this point.

Mr. al-Halabi is not convinced that a government can do it.

“Even if this government implements some reforms, these reforms will most likely in some way be aesthetic – a kind of facelift – in order to attract international aid again,” he said.

“But we know for a fact that they will not implement the much needed reforms that can change the regime and improve the lives of the Lebanese.”

Back at LAU Medical Center, Dr Ghanem says he is not holding his breath.

“Every day we hear so many stories about each of them that take us back to what we have since the civil war in Lebanon in 1975. It’s just the same story repeating itself again.”

“We’re in a situation where we don’t really dare to hope anymore, and I think it’s a huge disaster we’re facing. They took our hope away from us.”


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