Beirut, Lebanon – After a devastating explosion of a fuel tanker in the northern village of Al-Talil killed 28 people and injured nearly 80, Lebanese hospitals across the country have opened their doors to patients.
The northern village and the rest of the Akkar governorate are considered among the poorest in the country, and because their hospitals do not have burn units, many of the wounded had to be treated in places as far away as the capital Beirut, around forty-two. Half an hour by car.
Geitaoui Hospital, several blocks from the port of Beirut, was destroyed in the terrible explosion on August 4, 2020. It is working again, but, like other hospitals in the country, it is struggling to find medicine and fuel and retain its staff.
“We have received 15 patients, but we have 12 left – some of them are in very critical condition,” Sister Hadi Abi Shibli, the hospital’s general manager, told Al Jazeera. Burn patients require intensive and deep treatment and a long stay of up to two months.
Charity and good intentions
Lebanese hospitals have struggled for nearly two years to secure medicines and retain staff as the Lebanese pound lost more than 90 percent of its value against the US dollar.
The blast in Akkar on Sunday drained the health sector’s already limited resources, and the country’s ability to treat burn patients slumped.
The Ministry of Health has reached out to other countries for assistance. Turkey transferred four injured people to Ankara for treatment, while the ministry also spoke with Kuwaiti and Jordanian authorities to evacuate patients and provide medical assistance.
“To treat patients with burns, we need all kinds of antibiotics and painkillers, and we have supplies to treat their wounds, change bandages frequently, and do blood tests,” Abi Shibli explained, adding that hospitals can only pay for supplies in hard-to-obtain dollars. locally referred to as “new dollars”.
Charities and individuals have donated money and supplies to the hospital, for which Abi Shibli says she is grateful, but hospitals cannot rely sustainably on charity and goodwill.
Elsewhere in Beirut, the cash-strapped Rafic Hariri University Hospital, which is run by the government, is struggling to find enough fuel to keep lights on and equipment running. Despite this, the explosion in Akkar meant that they had to expedite plans to open a four-bed incineration unit with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
They have received two patients so far, one of whom is “80 percent with burns and in critical condition.”
Director Dr Firas Abyad said the hospital was only able to operate two of its seven generators, and had to turn off most of the air conditioning despite the scorching summer heat.
“It makes working conditions difficult,” White told Al Jazeera. “But at least we haven’t closed any wards.”
“It can’t go on like this.”
Before the economic crisis in Lebanon, most households in Beirut were dealing with three-hour daily power outages. Now, the electricity is only turned on for a few hours a day – if at all.
Dr. Naji Abi Rached of Geitawi Hospitals says they get only up to four hours of electricity per day, which increases their dependence on diesel and power generators.
“This is not normal – quite frankly a disaster,” he said.
Lebanon has been suffering for months from an acute shortage of fuel, whether to fill vehicles or run electricity generators.
The central bank announced last week that it would stop spending nearly $3 billion annually on fuel subsidies, and the announcement sent shockwaves through the economy and encouraged distributors to stockpile their shares, waiting to see if they could sell at higher rates later.
The subsidies allowed importers and distributors to sell the fuel at an officially pegged price of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, but as the pound deteriorated, the peg was replaced by an unofficial rate in the broader market. Economic analysts say the retention of subsidies eventually stimulated smuggling, particularly to Syria, to sell it at a profit.
The Ministry of Energy has not yet issued a new price list for diesel and other fuels after the Central Bank’s decision. The shortage has forced many across the country to pay much higher prices on the black market for the fuel, if they can find it.
“Fuel is now financially unavailable for much of the population,” Mohamed Faour, a postdoctoral research fellow in finance at University College Dublin, told Al Jazeera. Operation costs [for businesses] It will increase significantly, as most of the electric power is now on diesel fuel.”
On Saturday, the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), one of the largest hospitals in the country, issued a shocking statement saying it had less than two days of fuel, leaving the lives of about 150 patients on ventilators and dialysis machines in the balance. . Al-Makassed General Hospital in Beirut issued a similar statement.
While the American University of Beirut Medical Center was able to find enough fuel for a week, Dr. Walid Al-Hout, a surgical resident, said he feared for the hospital’s patients.
“There are no solutions to our problems, only a dose of morphine will help us endure the pain for tomorrow,” Al-Hout told Al Jazeera. “We are in a panic: we do not have the medicines, supplies and soon electricity to successfully treat our patients and achieve our mission.”
Suleiman Haroun, head of the Lebanese Hospital Syndicate, had pleaded with the Lebanese government for support.
“I have been in contact with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Energy, and they agreed with fuel importers to give priority to distribution to hospitals,” Haroun told Al Jazeera. “But so far, only some of the hospitals have secured the fuel and in very small quantities.”
Since the central bank has stopped opening credit lines for importers to bring in partially subsidized fuel, some importers are hoarding their stocks while they wait for the Energy Department to set new prices.
Haroun said that this paralysis has left Lebanese hospitals in a “critical condition”.
“Hospitals are taking things day by day, or in some cases hour by hour,” Haroun said.
“We can’t go on like this.”