A Medical Crisis in Lebanon

With the Lebanese healthcare system under unprecedented strain, Americares and Anera are working together to meet the growing needs.

On Friday, June 10, pharmacists across Lebanon launched a two-day strike to protest the shortages of medicines and fuel. Doctors, dentists, lab scientists, and nurses joined the strike. They marched in the streets and stormed the interior courtyard of the Ministry of Health. They demanded that the government rationalize medicine subsidies and solve the healthcare crisis.

According to the World Bank, Lebanon faces one of the worst economic crises in the world since the 1850s. The central bank failed to pay millions of dollars owed to international suppliers. As a result, the country’s foreign currency reserves began depleting. In July, the government lifted import subsidies, and medicine imports all but ceased. The existing stock of medicines necessary to treat chronic diseases ran out as a result. The stock of medicines used to treat cardiac diseases, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and multiple sclerosis ran low quickly. Not having these medicines prevents thousands of patients from accessing necessary treatment.

In addition to medicine shortages, Lebanon faces shortages of fuel that have led to blackouts of up to 22 hours each day. Those who can afford it now rely on private generators to power their homes and businesses. However, the government has steadily raised the price of fuel. On October 9, Lebanon faced a total blackout of state electricity as the two main power plants ran out of fuel and shut down.

The fuel and medicine shortages leave hospitals across the country struggling to maintain day-to-day operations and meet the healthcare needs of the Lebanese people. Lebanon’s largest public hospital, the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, relied on generators for 12 hours a day due to shortages of fuel. It now relies solely on generators. The hospital’s emergency room only admits patients with life-threatening conditions as a result. And the bed capacity has decreased by around 15%. The hospital can only secure two-days’ worth of fuel at a time. As a result, the hospital director and staff are constantly in search of more fuel to continue hospital operations. The hospital also lacks essential medicines, such as those needed for cancer treatment and kidney dialysis. The lack of these medicines prevents the hospital from delivering much-needed care.

How Anera and Americares are Helping

Anera and the relief and development organization Americares have built on their longstanding partnership to respond to the increasingly dire situation in Lebanon. In the last year, Americares has generously donated a series of medical aid shipments that Anera has distributed to hospitals and clinics across the nation.

Sign noting Anera's partnership with Americares and Airlink

The donated medicines include drugs used to manage HIV infections (lopinavir/ritonavir). Although reliable data is scarce in Lebanon, there are reasons to be concerned about growing HIV prevalence in the last decade. In 2018, UNAIDS reported “alarming numbers” (Nature) of new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections, specifically a near doubling of cases in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, sexual education is not common in schools, limiting accurate knowledge about safe sex practices.

Beractant is another donated medicine included in the shipments. The drug is vital to treating respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies. Often, a dose of beractant can literally save a life.

Americares and Anera have also partnered to donate IV solution to medical centers. Anyone who has spent time in hospitals knows how ubiquitous IV drips are. Yet this basic tool of healthcare can no longer be taken for granted in Lebanon, making donations of the vital fluid an essential part of first line care in the country.

Finger being pricked by diabetic blood glucose test pen.
The patient inserts a test strip in the machine and then pricks their fingertip with the machine’s tiny needle. A quick squeeze produces a small drop of blood than is placed onto the test strip. The meter then reveals current glucose levels on the spot.

To help the country's medical professionals continue to safely treat and care for patients through the pandemic, Anera and Americares have also donated COVID antibody tests and PPE to hospitals and clinics across Lebanon.

People who live with diabetes often find managing their condition to be a substantial expense if they are forced to cover costs themselves, as is generally the case in Lebanon. The economic crisis has escalated the financial burden. Thankfully Americares has also donated glucose monitoring devices and testing strips for diabetics, helping to ensure that financially vulnerable people have the tests they need.

Americares support for those most in need in Lebanon extends beyond medical aid to hygiene products like disposable and reusable feminine pads. Many teenage girls and young women cannot afford the increasingly expensive imported pads. Often, they resort to improvising solutions that are at best inconvenient and may endanger their health. Sustainable menstrual hygiene products offer a critical solution for the sexual and reproductive health needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

An educator from Days for Girls explains how to use the sustainable pads.
An educator from Days for Girls explains how to use the sustainable pads.

During this time of crisis in Lebanon, the contributions of valued partners like Americares and all of the individuals around the world who support these efforts is making a tangible difference in the lives of thousands of patients.

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