Lebanon’s largest public hospital runs out of drugs

Roula Itani, the head A&E nurse at Rafiq Hariri Hospital in Beirut, depends on certain things to do her job: fuel so she can get to work, electricity to run the hospital and medication for his patients.

But currently in Lebanon, these goods and services, as well as many others, are scarce. It’s the result of what the World Bank has called one of the worst economic collapses on record, and nowhere are its effects felt more than in Beirut’s only operating public hospital.

“We have an overload of patients and that’s why the nurses are overloaded,” Itani told VICE World News. “We have many Lebanese patients who now cannot afford to pay for insurance or pay privately at the other hospital due to the economic crisis. “

Roula Itani receives her morning update from the medical staff.

Roula Itani receives her morning update from the medical staff. Photo: Matthieu Cassel

The scale of the crisis, which has lasted for years, can be difficult to understand. But speaking to A&E patients, it’s clear how devastating this has become for the Lebanese.

Nouri Daher shouldn’t be there. The 52-year-old’s hypertension is manageable, but he can’t find the drugs he needs to manage it. So, for the second time this month, he had to go to the emergency room for emergency care.

“You go to a private doctor and they prescribe medicine for you, but you go to the pharmacy to buy it and it’s not there,” Daher told VICE World News, adding that he had been in dozens of pharmacies in vain.

“So you end up coming to the hospital for treatment. “

Nearby, Itani explains to Hanayna Maroune, an 89-year-old woman in urgent need of a replacement pacemaker, that she is being kept in the emergency room because there is no room in the heart unit in the hospital. ‘hospital. Maroune’s son, Emile, entered the hallway to continue calling relatives overseas to see if they can help locate a pacemaker for his mother.

“My mother is dying before my eyes,” said Emile Maroune, wiping away his tears. “I had been looking for a pacemaker for two or three days, but couldn’t find one. There are no pacemakers available.

During a week at A&E, we met dozens of patients like Daher and Maroune who are hospitalized because they cannot get the drugs or equipment needed for diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, blood pressure and d ‘other chronic diseases.

Hospitals like Rafiq Hariri have wanted them to be closed if they cannot find enough fuel for their generators.

Hospitals like Rafiq Hariri have wanted them to be closed if they cannot find enough fuel for their generators. Photo: Matthieu Cassel

When hospital power goes from state to private, as it happens several times a day, the lights may turn off for a minute before turning back on to the sound of machines beeping in all directions. . Hospital staff run from patient to patient by resetting the rescue equipment and checking that nothing has been disturbed; for them, it has become a routine.

The Lebanese state power company is only able to provide electricity for a few hours a day at most, which means hospitals like this one depend on their private generators. But finding fuel for them can also be difficult, and in August director Rafiq Hariri warned that they were on the verge of shutting down before receiving an emergency diesel donation. But they don’t know how long it will last.

The collapse of the Lebanese economy predates the explosion of the Port of Beirut last year and affects all aspects of society – but how did it get here?

Lebanon is a country which is no stranger to unrest. It was the arena of a bloody 15-year civil war. When the fighting ended in 1990 and the country sought to rebuild itself, the government took on massive debt and relied mainly on foreign exchange from millions of Lebanese in the diaspora.

Lebanon faces severe fuel shortages, forcing people to wait many hours for refueling.

Lebanon faces severe fuel shortages, forcing people to wait many hours for refueling. Photo: Matthieu Cassel

For a time, Lebanon was at relative peace and reclaimed headlines in international media, such as “Switzerland in the Middle East”. But locals would scoff at such nicknames due to the country’s poor infrastructure and corrupt political class.

As uprisings and unrest spread across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, much of the foreign money entering the country slowed down. To encourage investment banks, interest rates were introduced up to 15 percent. The political elite, many of whom had close ties to the banks, grew richer as the country ran out of money.

In 2019, when the government needed cash, it tried to generate revenue through a tax on WhatsApp calls. In response, Lebanese across the country protested in a rare display of interfaith unity.

The government resigned, the banks closed as the Lebanese tried to withdraw their crash and the crisis worsened.

Today, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value against the US dollar. What this means in practice is that the Lebanese have much less purchasing power than they did just a few years ago, and the price of imports has skyrocketed, creating shortages of wheat, medicines, fuel and almost everything else.

Remittances from millions of Lebanese around the world, who typically represent around a quarter of Lebanon’s GDP, might still be the one thing keeping many households afloat. But the Lebanese know that this is a temporary solution to more systemic problems and therefore no longer seek solutions inside the country.

Back at A&E, residents and trainees in their twenties pay special attention to the doctors they hope to work on someday, but not in Lebanon.

“We want [work in Lebanon], but how possible is it for us to stay here under all this pressure… we’re not sure yet, ”said Janna Farhat. “So if we have the opportunity to actually practice elsewhere, I think it would be better for us financially and economically.”

Farhat and the other interns staged a day of strike action among all residents and interns across the country, demanding more support from the government. But photos and videos of students rushing to get their exam results so they can apply for positions abroad, and passports to be able to travel, have been shared widely on social media in Lebanon as examples of the ongoing “brain drain” facing the country.

“I think the next crisis [after] the economic will be the medical because many doctors are leaving now, we will remain without doctors and without hospital supplies ”, declared the intern Aliyah Masry.

Back in her office, nurse Itani locked the door. She’s already stayed over an hour past her end time. In addition to monitoring patients, she needs to plan her thinning team and update her inventory to find out. She also has to plan with her husband how they plan to find work tomorrow.

The lines of the mask she has worn all day is still in the middle of a pandemic, let’s not forget, visible on her face. She is tired and frustrated, and like almost everyone in A&E, she has applied for nursing jobs in Kuwait and Canada, and is looking for other options.

“On the one hand, I keep telling myself not to go or give up, but on the other hand, I really can’t take it anymore,” Itani said, the lines of the mask she wore. all day were still visible, in addition to all Lebanon is facing, it is still fighting the pandemic.

Like almost all of his colleagues, Itani has applied for work in Kuwait and Canada, and is looking for other options.

“We can’t handle the amount of stress we are under. It’s too much.”

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