Lebanon: France to donate $8.3 mln to Beirut hospital at heart of coronavirus fight

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France has pledged to donate 7 million euros ($8.32 million) to Lebanon’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital that has been at the center of the country’s coronavirus response, the hospital’s head Firass Abiad said in a tweet on Wednesday.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut this week for the second time since the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port, meeting with new Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib as well as legendary Lebanese singer Fairuz.

The blast damaged half of the city’s hospitals, and while the Rafik Hariri hospital was left undamaged, the hospital has played an integral role in treating COVID-19 patients and providing healthcare access to vulnerable populations in Lebanon, including refugees. Lebanon has recently seen a surge in coronavirus cases after the explosion, putting the hospital under additional stress.

Lebanon is currently facing its worst economic crisis in decades, and at the end of 2019, hospitals were sounding warning calls that they were facing supply shortages as they could not pay for their imports. A shortage of dollars in the country, needed to pay for imports, has meant that many importers have not been able to secure enough dollars to pay for goods.

French President Emmanuel Macron plants a cedar with members of the NGO Jouzour Loubnan in Jaj, near Beirut, Tuesday Sept. 1, 2020. (AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron plants a cedar with members of the NGO Jouzour Loubnan in Jaj, near Beirut, Tuesday Sept. 1, 2020. (AP)

The health care system in the country is also in disarray from years of mismanagement, with the government owing private facilities an estimated $1.3 billion in unpaid dues as of 2019 – used to pay staff and purchase medical supplies – since 2011. In March, doctors treating coronavirus at Rafik Hariri hospital said they would go on strike due to “the dangers, hardships, and harsh conditions under which hospital staff suffer, and the indifference that has become evident by management and stakeholders.”

One health official told Al Arabiya English that now payments have nearly stopped completely.

“Five years ago, [Rafik Hariri hospital] was going from one crisis to another, becoming a symbol of failing governmental institutions. Now, after years of administrative rehabilitation, it stands at the forefront of healthcare delivery, at a time of great need, a pandemic,” Abiad said on Twitter.

Read more: Coronavirus puts spotlight on Lebanon’s ailing public healthcare system

The donation comes as Macron attempts to play an increased role in Lebanon following the blasts. On Tuesday, Macron announced he was willing to host an international conference on how to help Lebanon in mid-October, but he has also warned that the new government must make serious reforms.

The French president has given Adib two weeks to form a government – a process that typically takes months in Lebanon – and has charged the new prime minister with implementing a roadmap to help make the country make a U-turn. The country has suffered from years of corruption and mismanagement that led to the country’s expedited economic downfall that began in mid-2019 and ultimately was responsible for the deadly blasts at the port.

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If no reforms are made “I will tell the international community that we can’t help Lebanon but also explain to the Lebanese people that your leaders decided it would be so,” Macron told reporters. “It’s time for Lebanon and its authorities to draw the lessons from the tragedy.”

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