COVID-19: Lebanon’s hospitals in a ‘catastrophic’ situation
The head of the private hospitals association sounds the alarm, warning that “Hospitals are completely full. We don’t know where to put patients any more.” The country’s 127 private hospitals have made available so far only 400 beds for patients affected by the novel coronavirus, including a hundred intensive care beds. Lockdown is once again the only solution to reduce the burden on the health care system.
Eight months after the first COVID-19 case was reported on 21 February, Lebanese hospitals fighting COVID-19 are in a “catastrophic” state, this according Sleiman Haroun, president of Lebanon’s private hospitals association.
“Hospitals are completely full,” he explained. “We don’t know where to put patients any more. Only yesterday it took us several hours to move a patient from Dora (Metn) to a hospital in Zghorta (North Lebanon). [. . .] We have to go around all the hospitals, unsure if we can find a bed for a patient.”
The crisis in which are plunged COVID-19 dedicated hospitals is but one of Lebanon’s many political and economic problems.
The situation was already precarious before COVID-19; when the pandemic hit, it pushed 55 per cent of the population below the poverty line. As the crisis developed, the number of suicides has risen, and people rush to buy the few drugs available.
Lebanon has 127 private hospitals, which together have only 400 beds for COVID-19 patients, a hundred in intensive care; a drop in the bucket. What is insane is the fact that the country isolated itself in a lockdown for two months to allow public and private hospitals to prepare for the pandemic.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, Sleiman Haroun noted that “The problem is that the government does not have the means to cover hospital costs under normal circumstances. How will it do it in times of a pandemic?”
Experts expect the situation to get worse over the coming weeks and months, as Joseph Hélou, a senior official with the Health Ministry, notes. “People,” he said, “have been too carefree. They did not miss the opportunity to go out and socialise. Now is the time to pay the consequences for this behaviour.”
Lebanese public hospitals have about 250 intensive care beds. The goal is to increase capacity, working with private facilities but not everyone “wants to join in this battle,” Hélou said.
So far, only 16 private hospitals have created ad hoc intensive care wards dedicated to COVID-19, which “must be isolated” from the rest of the facility to avoid the danger of contagion.
Like in many other parts of the world, especially in Europe most recently, the only solution is a lockdown, Hélou believes.
“We must completely isolate the country for a month, with strict rules and a curfew, with severe penalties for offenders. This will allow hospitals and medical and nursing staff to breathe.”
Meanwhile, the number of cases continues to rise. Today the toll reached record of 1,550 new cases (79 from abroad) with two deaths. The total number is 58,645 cases and 501 deaths, 625 in hospital with 195 in intensive care.