“We don’t fear coronavirus, but [we fear] the inability of the health sector to confront it due to the lack of medicines, medical equipment, the collapse of the Lebanese pound, and the migration of doctors and nurses,” said MP Assem Araji, head of the parliamentary health committee on August 10, 2021.
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This is not the first time that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the exhausted health sector in Lebanon. Back in January and February 2021 (almost a year after the detection of the first COVID case in Lebanon), the country witnessed peaks in daily cases after ruling out the lockdown gradually. As if the deadly blast at the Beirut Port was not enough, many Lebanese lost their lives to this virus due to congested hospitals and lack of beds. At that time, the collapse of the national currency by losing eight times its worth contributed to decreased access in medical care, as well as an unprepared health sector to handle a relatively high number of cases, leaving families of patients desperately in search of oxygen generators and refillable oxygen bottles on the black market at very high prices.
Thanks to the vaccine rollout in February and the return of strict lockdowns, cases have dropped gradually from 5,000-6,000 cases per day in January to almost 100 to 200 cases in June. Currently, just over 28 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. The lockdown did help the health sector breathe once more; however the further collapse of the Lebanese pound paused its continuation in this rapidly declining economy.
For the past couple of months, Lebanon’s healthcare system has been struggling with drug shortages and medical equipment accompanied with the scarcity of healthcare professionals due to migration…not to mention the rise in Delta variant cases that started in early July. With the shortages in fuel and electricity supply, many COVID departments in public hospitals closed their doors, leaving only around 400 to 500 working COVID beds in the whole country which have reached their full capacity when the number of daily cases didn’t pass 2,000 in August 2021.
If a citizen got infected with the virus and didn’t present any complications, the treatment would cost almost half the monthly wage than if this very same citizen was still employed. And with almost bankrupt reimbursing bodies, I will let you count how many salaries a patient with complications would need to be hospitalized in the economy class.
Vaccinated patients infected with the Delta variant rarely present severe disease complications and are mostly treated without hospitalization, so speeding up the immunization progress will help in shrinking the number of new cases. With the current crisis, however, the process is decelerating. Besides vaccination, adopting preventive measures limits the spread of the virus; we can see the lack of awareness among many who put their lives and those of others at risk on a daily basis. For example, some customers entering the pharmacy or any other indoor establishment still refuse to wear masks.
All signs indicate that further peaks in cases and deaths are definitive for the coming days in Lebanon, and the solution to prevent such a tragedy from being repeated is not available.