Lebanese hospitals at breaking point as everything runs out

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Drenched in sweat, doctors check patients lying on stretchers in the reception area of Lebanon’s largest public hospital. Air conditioners are turned off, except in operating rooms and storage units, to save on fuel.

Medics scramble to find alternatives to saline solutions after the hospital ran out. The shortages are overwhelming, the medical staff exhausted. And with a new surge in coronavirus cases, Lebanon’s hospitals are at a breaking point.

The country’s health sector is a casualty of the multiple crises that have plunged Lebanon into a downward spiral — a financial and economic meltdown, compounded by a complete failure of the government, runaway corruption and a pandemic that isn’t going away.

The collapse is all the more dramatic since only a few years ago, Lebanon was a leader in medical care in the Arab world. The region’s rich and famous came to this small Mideast nation of 6 million for everything, from major hospital procedures to plastic surgeries.

he Rafik Hariri University Hospital is Lebanon’s largest public hospital and the country’s No. 1 for the treatment of coronavirus patients. Lebanon has so far registered nearly 590,000 infections and over 8,000 deaths.

The hospital, which depended on the state power company, had to start relying on generators for at least 12 hours a day. Since last Monday, the generators have been the only source of power, running non-stop. Most of the hospital’s diesel, sold at the black market at five times the official price, is either donated by political parties or international aid groups.

To save on fuel, some rooms run only electrical fans in the sweltering summer heat. Not all hospital elevators are working. Bed capacity has been downsized by about 15% and the ER admits only life-threatening cases.

Lebanon’s financial crisis, rooted in years of corruption and mismanagement, spilled out into the streets in late 2019, with antigovernment protests and demands for accountability. Political leaders have since failed to agree on a recovery program or even a new government — leaving the previous one in perpetual but stumped caretaker role.

The World Bank has described the crisis as among the worst in over a century. In just two and a half years, the majority of the population has been plunged into poverty, the national currency is collapsing and foreign reserves have run dry.

Power outages have for years forced a dependence on private generators but the crisis took on new dimensions this summer as fuel and diesel became scarce, disrupting the work of hospitals, bakeries, internet providers and many other businesses.

Reports say at least 2,500 doctors and nurses have left Lebanon this year. At the Rafik Hariri hospital, at least 30% of doctors and more than 10% of nurses left, most recently five in one day. Many private hospitals, who offer 80% of Lebanon’s medical services, are shutting down because of lack of resources or turning away patients who can’t pay.

Photo: photo EPA-EFE/WAEL HAMZEH

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