Rita never imagined that getting medicine for her cancer treatment would worry her more than suffering from the disease that has ravaged her body for three years.
But in the midst of Lebanon’s economic collapse, those with chronic illnesses are not spared.
“A cancer patient is the one who suffers the most in the universe,” Rita, 53, whose name has been changed, told AFP.
“First of all, we have to look for medicine.
In view of the prolonged economic crisis that Lebanon has been going through for nearly two years and ranked by the World Bank among the worst in the world since 1850, no sector has remained immune to the repercussions of the collapse, especially the sector. hospitalization and medicines imported mainly from abroad.
The scarcity of drugs has led to a significant increase in their prices due to the collapse in the exchange rate of the lira against the dollar, and the suffering of patients, most of whom are now unable to provide their treatment or bear the cost. cost of their purchase, has worsened.
The Department of Health provided drugs to those without health insurance almost free of charge, and many people benefited from it, including Rita, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer three years ago. , before it recently spread to his lungs and caused several health complications.
But now the situation has changed.
“My brother went to the Ministry of Health to get some medicine and he couldn’t find it. I don’t know what to do, ”says Rita, a mother of three who lives in her brother’s house in the Chouf region.
She says she is now forced to borrow money to buy the drugs on the black market.
She asks warmly, “If I can’t borrow this time, what should I do?” Do I wait until it is my turn (to get medicine from the Ministry of Health) and miss a step in treatment and the cancer spreads further?
“If the medicine is not available, I will die.”
She then continues with despair: “In both cases, [I am] dead. “
– ‘It’s humiliation’ –
According to a report published by the World Cancer Monitor of the World Health Organization in March 2021, Lebanon has recorded 28,764 cancer cases in the past five years, including 11,600 cases in 2020. However, doctors explain that the number of people receiving treatment exceeds this figure. number since the duration of treatment for some patients may extend over years.
The head of the Association of Hematologists of Lebanon, Professor Ahmed Ibrahim, told AFP that around 2,000 to 2,500 cases of leukemia and lymphatic diseases are recorded each year in Lebanon, and that “there are no There are currently only a few drugs that are used in their treatment. . “
He warns that “if the treatment of these patients is not continued periodically, some of them will die”, noting that “some patients were on the verge of recovery and have reached a stage near the end of treatment. . Suddenly, the medication was cut off from them. “
Since the beginning of the year, the Lebanese have searched in vain for their medicines in pharmacies whose shelves are empty. Many depend on friends and family members abroad for their medicines, at very high prices compared to the locally subsidized price, at a time when 78 percent of Lebanese live below the poverty line.
Importing companies submitted import invoices to the Banque du Liban for payment, as part of the subsidy policy. However, with the scarcity of the dollar and the rise in smuggling, monopolies, and price manipulation, he began to require prior approval from the Ministry of Health to import drugs and pay bills later. which led to the accumulation of corporate contributions. The latter gradually stopped importing.
In the aftermath of the crisis, the interim Minister of Health Hamad Hassan announced on Wednesday the intention of the World Bank and international institutions to “allocate 25 million dollars to buy chronic and intractable drugs” to supply them to the Lebanese.
– “What is the patient’s fault?” –
Several initiatives and associations are making their voices heard, including the Barbara Nassar association, which cares about supporting cancer patients. On Thursday, she held a vigil in Beirut, in which dozens of patients attended, to demand the supply of cancer drugs.
“Imagine that in Lebanon, a cancer patient, with all his worries, is invited to take to the streets and ask for medicine,” association president Hani Nassar told AFP.
“What is the patient’s fault if the state is unable to control the crisis? “
He warns that the danger is that some patients “may die later” unless they take “drugs that protect their bodies from a larger epidemic of cancer.”
Eight months after her marriage, Patricia Nassif, 29, learned in April that she had breast cancer, which changed her life.
Browsing through old photos of herself on her phone before she started wearing a wig and gaining weight from the treatment, the young woman recounts how she “often loses hope” and wonders if she “will live and how long” .
Her current concern is how to get the medication she needs during the 12 treatment sessions she will soon be starting, and he is currently cut off from the market.
“It’s humiliation,” she said contemptuously. “Maybe all our efforts will be in vain and the cancer will come back?”
She continues: “It’s like they’re telling us ‘die slowly’ (…) I don’t know if (the officials) want us to die or live. They don’t ask about our souls. “