As the government starts rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination program, it is imperative that vaccination is accessible to everyone in the country based on risk factors and vulnerability, and without any distinction of nationality and residency status. Government transparency will make sure no one jumps the vaccine line because of their political connections, or socio-economic status.
The government should immediately appoint a COVID-19 Response Coordinator, and one selected from the medical community based on their qualifications and leadership. The Coordinator, with authority over all aspects of the response, including health, social and financial, should report to the Prime Minister or the President. Lebanon needs a unified and effective response to the pandemic.
The multiple crises have taken a major toll on the country’s ability to cope with 1.7 million people now living under the poverty line, and about 22 percent of the population expected to fall into extreme poverty. No one should have to choose between their health and feeding their families. Without a social safety net to make sure people get their basic needs covered, they will have to make these outrageous choices.
Equipped hospitals can receive COVID-19 patients, but they are few. It is incomprehensible that while most COVID-19 designated hospitals are at full capacity, others don’t have any patients. At this time of great emergency, all hospitals across the country should have designated wings to receive, and treat infected patients. Treating everyone is a national priority.
In fact, by neglecting its public health sector, Lebanon has failed to protect its population. The country is heavily dependent on the private healthcare sector with 80 percent of the government’s healthcare budget going to private institutions. Lebanese authorities should focus on re-building the public health sector, by investing in its infrastructure, its primary care centers, its public hospitals, and supporting its health workforce. They also need to invest in having a national strategic medical supplies stock for emergencies.
People die every day because of inadequate and insufficient care, leaving it to nurses and doctors to decide who should be put on ventilators or receive oxygen because there are in short supply. If the healthcare sector hasn’t totally collapsed yet, it is on a rapid steep, and dangerous decline. There is a shortage of medication, protective equipment, and beds in hospitals and clinics.
With each passing day, the lives of healthcare workers in Lebanon are becoming more unbearable. Not only are they taking greater risks to save infected patients, but they are also witnessing death without receiving the mental, physical, and social support they need.
Frontline healthcare workers in Lebanon don’t have time to grieve. Exhausted they don’t know who to turn to in a country in tatters, drained by a financial crisis, political instability, and the pandemic.
With more than 2,400 frontline healthcare workers infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, many still don’t have access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Supplying directly, frontline healthcare workers with PPEs, and ensuring they are not overworked, is essential.
While treating patients and saving lives, healthcare professionals have also seen their income decline by 80 percent as the Lebanese pound depreciated. Like millions of Lebanese, they are struggling to make ends meet, however, paying them their full salaries on time is non-negotiable.
Many have already left the country. Lebanon can’t afford to lose its health workforce. The government should work with both public and private institutions to make sure that doctors and nurses are adequately compensated, and don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from.
Being in a state of economic ruin, the Lebanese government cannot do it by itself. Donor nations and international institutions must continue to support the country financially, and help with donations of ventilators, oxygen equipment, medicines, and medical supplies. Whenever possible, aid needs directed, directly to agencies and hospitals assisting people in need.