By Noemi Jabois
Beirut, Aug 17 (EFE).- The recent worsening of the fuel crisis in Lebanon has the country’s hospitals on the ropes, given that they need fuel to supply electricity and are also facing a significant lack of medicines, medical supplies and liquidity that is threatening to cost many lives.
Since Lebanon’s Central Bank announced last week the end of fuel subsidies, the already acute shortage has resulted in almost no available diesel fuel to operate electric generators at a time when public electricity service is all but non-existent.
After a fuel storage facility blew up on Aug. 15 in the southern district of Akkar killing almost 30 people and injuring 79, the Lebanese Geitaoui-UMC Hospital in Beirut has received 15 of those patients, two of whom have been released and one who was transferred to Turkey by plane.
Naji J. Abi Rached, the medical director of the hospital, told EFE that among the 12 people who remain hospitalized after the blast are patients with burns on 80-100 percent of their bodies and for whom there is a “very high risk that they will not survive.”
With its Burn Unit considered to be a “regional reference point,” the private hospital is fighting to deliver “costly” and “high-intensity” treatment that the patients need. Abi Rached estimated that the patients will undergo at least two months of “critical care” with “surgeries, daily monitoring, antibiotics, infusions, hydration, morphine and intubation” as part of their treatment.
“The estimated cost per patient is $800 per day and the estimate of what the state will cover is about 1 million Lebanese pounds, which is only one-fifteenth the cost,” the cardiologist said, this in a country where $1 is equivalent to 20,000 pounds on the black market while the official exchange rate stands at 1,500 pounds per dollar.
Since the eruption in late 2019 of one of the worse economic crises in a century-and-a-half, Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and the prices of almost everything are set according to the black market exchange rate, which is very unstable given local inflation and the lack of state funds.
The medical director said that his hospital only gets about two to four hours of public electricity per day and has to scramble to get its hands on enough diesel fuel to operate its generators during the rest of the time.
“We have to fight each day to guarantee our requirements and that will last only, let’s say, a week, 10 days, two weeks, but it’s not the solution. Every hospital is being left to its own fate and is seeking its own solution,” he warned.
Added to the scarcity of medicines and medical supplies, the situation could put the health sector “into great danger very quickly” and Abi Rached warned of a “disaster” if the government cannot establish an “emergency plan” with health sector officials.
The situation is just as critical at the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, a large public health center on the outskirts of the capital that on the days it receives no power from the state-run electric company must find 9,000 to 10,000 liters (about 2,400-2,650 gallons) of diesel fuel to be able to function.
“At this time we have in our storage facility 12,000 liters, which is barely enough for the next 24 hours,” the hospital’s executive director, Firass Abiad, told EFE.
Like other medical centers in recent days, the hospital has been begging for help from the authorities saying that it might have to shut down, a process that would begin with cutting the air conditioning to the various units and then disconnecting both the ventilators that presently keep 45 patients alive and the dialysis machines that serve another 150.
Although medications for chronic illnesses and out-patient chemotherapy have been scarce for some time, Abiad is more concerned now about the lack of anesthetics, antibiotics and analgesics, all of which are vital for the patients in the Intensive Care Unit.
“Without chemotherapy, the patients will deteriorate but it takes time. Our problem now is that we don’t have enough medicines for the people inside the hospital,” he said, adding that two days ago the main serum factory had to stop production of the essential product for two days.
Along with the lack of medical supplies are the growing costs for products like soap or spare parts for various medical and non-medical equipment in a hospital that receives its budgetary funding from the government in Lebanese pounds.