The Covid-19 pandemic has brought major challenges in Lebanon

The challenges

The huge economic crisis that hit Lebanon’s hospitals and especially the intensive care units, has created a new problem for the country.

Covid-19 patients, who are in need of urgent care and are brought to hospitals, are left in wheelchairs because of the shortage in hospital’s beds. There is not enough space to help them. They have to find another place to get cured. Assuming that the hospital will eventually admit the patient, is already outdated. Patients are waiting outside hospitals for hours, until their families are able to bring them back home.

The lucky ones who get admitted in the hospital, have to bring their own food, medicine and bedding. Many patients lie in the corridors, without even getting the right treatments through monitors or ventilators. Moreover, there is a lack of staff within the healthcare sector. Because of Covid-19, overwork and frustration from the lack of payments over the last months.

Around 200,000 Lebanese have contracted the coronavirus. Over 1,500 have died, and more than 4,500 new cases are diagnosed every day. The Prime Minister Hassan Diab has recently announced a further three-week lockdown with curfew from 6 P.M to 5 A.M and limitations on movement. Thousands of lockdown violators have already been fined. As consequent of these failures in respecting the limitations, a much tighter lockdown was imposed. It required citizens to receive a one-hour permit before leaving home for emergencies. Supermarkets were forced to close their doors and only make deliveries. 

The arrival of the vaccines

As for the vaccination, Lebanon has begun its national COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Sunday, February 14, 2021. The first doses were given to frontline medical workers and the elderly. Over half a million people have registered for the vaccine so far. Less than 10% of the population. According to the Lebanese Health Ministry, the first shipment of vaccines was sufficient to only vaccinate around 20 percent of the country. The first batch of vaccines to arrive in Lebanon was made up of 28,500 doses.

Lebanon signed a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech for 2.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine to be delivered. These vaccines will be complemented by 2.7 million doses obtained through COVAX. This plan will be monitored by the World Bank and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to make sure that a safe and legal handling is given. As well as to ensure an equitable access to all the population residing in Lebanon.

Are vaccines granted to everyone?

However, several political figures are trying to purchase additional vaccines through bilateral illegal negotiations, raising questions about transparency, coordination, and distribution tracking. Observers fear that vaccines purchased by political figures, will be distributed to their supporters, instead that to all the population fairly, which is unfair.

A valid documentation is needed in order to receive the vaccine. However, a requirement like such, risks to limit the number of people able to access the vaccine registration. In fact, in Lebanon there is a lack in civil documentation. Among the population, there is a big number of unregistered refugees from Syria, around 500,000. Yet, around two-thirds of the new borns from Syrian parents, are without a birth certificate registered with the Lebanese authorities, according to UNHRC.

The country’s deep economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Beirut explosion have led to a fast deterioration of the socio-economic situation of both Lebanese and refugees in Lebanon. Approximately 89% of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are now living below the extreme poverty line. It is an increase from the 55% calculated in mid-2019. Even though the government restricted the vaccines only to Lebanese nationals, refugees claim to receive a fair vaccination too. However, vaccine hesitancy is also a strong lead in Lebanon. Most of the people don’t trust the vaccine. They fear for adverse effects that they can get from it.

Hospitals are in need of funds

Some private hospitals have also stopped receiving COVID-19 patients. The treatment goes beyond their health insurances plan. However, all public hospitals have been operating beyond capacity for several weeks. In order to treat serious patients, the country’s hospitals need more additional beds – each at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000 per bed, including accompanying equipment. That’s an enormous price to cope, especially for Lebanon’s 127 private hospitals, which say the government owes them $1.5 billion, since 2012.

To purchase the right equipment and medicine, importers need to be paid in advance and in dollars. The importers won’t accept checks or promises, even if backed up by state guarantees. There is a high level of distrust among the population and towards Lebanon. The central bank has announced that its reserves have fallen to only about $2 billion, and these are pointed at imports of essential goods.

The future of Lebanon is impossible to be previsioned, but of course it doesn’t look so bright if things will stay like this.

Pierre El Sokhn

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