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Mount Lebanon’s Hospitals Struggle under the Weight of a Pandemic and Economic Crisis
Posted on Mar 24, 2021 |
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BEIRUT – Six months ago Samer Saade, an ER doctor in Mount Lebanon’s Bellevue Medical Center, never imagined that the coronavirus intensive care units would be overflowing with patients in critical condition.
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Mount Lebanon’s Hospitals Struggle under the Weight of a Pandemic and Economic Crisis
©Adra Kandil

BEIRUT – Six months ago Samer Saade, an ER doctor in Mount Lebanon’s Bellevue Medical Center, never imagined that the coronavirus intensive care units would be overflowing with patients in critical condition.

 

The hospital has 22 regular beds and eight ICU beds for coronavirus patients. The medical staff had been preparing for a health crisis for months. These are all now at capacity.

 

Still, Saade said numbers of coronavirus patients were beyond what he had expected. Lebanon in January witnessed its most dangerous surge of coronavirus cases to date, jumping from around 3,000 recorded daily cases to over 6,000 in a matter of days.

 

“The incoming flow of patients was so high that we hit capacity. We have had to treat [coronavirus] patients in the ER because we couldn’t transfer them anywhere,” Samer said.

 

“Every hospital in Mount Lebanon was full.”  

 

Mount Lebanon Governorate has around 10 hospitals spread out amongst its six districts: Aley, Baabda, Chouf, Jbeil, Keserwan, and Matn. The combined local population in the governorates of Beirut and Mount Lebanon is estimated to be around two million people, nearly half of the Lebanese population.

 

There have been a total of 141,988 coronavirus cases in  Mount Lebanon’s six districts (as of Feb. 9**), [GA1] making up 43.7 % of the country’s 324,859 cases since Feb. 21, 2020.

 

Overlapping with the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon for over a year has been grappling with the worst economic crisis it has witnessed in decades, which has placed an additional burden on its already fragile health sector during a critical time.

 

“Thirty percent of our staff has left because of the economic crisis, the pressure has been incredible,” Saade said.

 

In the last year, Lebanon’s national currency has depreciated by 80 percent.

 

“We used to get our salaries in dollars and now we’re getting them in Lebanese Pounds… So if I was getting $6000 before, it’s now only worth $100,” Saade explained. “So medical staff are going to other Arab countries where they can get paid in dollars.”

 

The economic crisis has also impacted hospitals’ ability to afford and equip themselves with coronavirus protective equipment. Saade said that while the Health Ministry has provided some support, the hospital has had to ration PPE, including masks and gauze in case they run out.

 

Mount Lebanon Hospital, one of the largest in the governorate, has received 650 [GA2] coronavirus patients since the start of the pandemic, according to Elie Gharios, the hospital’s medical director. Of these, 90 have died, around 13 percent of its incoming coronavirus patients.

 

The hospital is equipped with 80 beds to treat coronavirus patients, 40 of which are ICU. These are entirely at capacity, Gharios said.

 

Mount Lebanon Governor Mohammad Makkawi said that strict lockdown measures were implemented too late after the Aug. 4 Beirut Port explosion. Coronavirus safety measures became less of a priority for Lebanon’s population in the wake of the blast’s destruction, which had damaged half the capital. 

 

“In August, after the explosion, people gathered a lot in the streets to protest and to help clean up glass and debris,” Makkawi said.

 

People from across the country and the various districts of Mount Lebanon had come down to Beirut and gathered to help clear up the wreckage over the weeks following the blast.  Some areas of Mount Lebanon had been impacted by the explosion, including Bourj Hammoud, Sin el Fil, and Hazmieh.

 

Just before the explosion, 177 coronavirus cases had been recorded over 24 hours across the country by the Health Ministry. On Aug. 19, two weeks after the explosion, coronavirus cases jumped to 589.

 

“We should have had a 20-day lockdown in September to stop the virus from spreading. We might have been able to slow it down,” Makkawi said.

 

The Mount Lebanon Governor said the economic crisis has greatly impacted resident’s ability to adhere to lockdown measures.

 

The delay in implementing restrictions… has caused us to be in a longer lockdown, but now it is happening during an economic situation when most people cannot stay without work for this long,” Makkawi said.

 

Lebanon implemented an unprecedented 24-hour lockdown in January, to stem the spread of the most dangerous coronavirus surge the country has witnessed to date. The lockdown is set to continue until the end of March. The surge has been largely blamed on authorities’ decision to lift most lockdown restrictions over the holidays.

 

The crisis-hit country is getting ready to rollout coronavirus vaccines as of Feb. 14. The government has reserved some 2.1 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which are set to arrive in different shipments. The first phase of vaccines will aim to inoculate the most vulnerable residents, including frontline healthcare workers and people over 65 years of age.


 [GA1]We can change this on the day of publication so that the numbers are correct

 [GA2]Might have to change this number for the day of publication

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