A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon
It was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 August 2020

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon
  • Women at a sewing workshop in Saida called Machghal El Oum are doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus
  • Around 20 women are producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew

BEIRUT: In the time of the coronavirus when most people were asked not to leave their houses and to work from home, some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum.

The workshop was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat.

The women who work there are doing a public service by helping the factory to cope with the surging demand for face masks in Lebanon.

“The idea was born with the spread of the coronavirus disease in Lebanon and the dire lack of supplies in the markets,” said Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum.

“We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits,” she said.

Research and many experiments have been conducted by Machghal El Oum in cooperation with engineers and specialists to discover the best type of fabric to prevents liquids and any kind of spray from reaching the wearer’s skin.

The fabric — such as titanium TNT, which blocks external elements — must also be available in the Lebanese market.

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That is how about 20 women started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew.

There is an increasing demand for the suits, according to Wehbe, who adds that Machghal El Oum is currently cooperating with the Lebanese Red Cross and the World Health Organization.

Ghassan Hanqir, the director of public relations at the Islamic Welfare Association (which established the workshop), said that hospitals, pharmacists, relief agencies and restaurants placed orders for hundreds of suits daily.

He said that the price of a suit was symbolic and not for profit, but enough to purchase the required materials and pay the workers’ salaries.

The women at the workshop are from the marginalized and economically disadvantaged sections of Lebanese society.

When the workshop was founded 25 years ago, an applicant’s socio-economic status was used as the main criterion for hiring, Wehbe said.

“We provide work for women in need, who are divorced, widowed or refugees. Each year, we offer them six-month sewing courses, at the end of which we provide them with sewing machines.

“The highly qualified women are offered jobs in our workshop.”

FASTFACT

20

Number of women who started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits per day.

These women, in spite of their difficult circumstances, or perhaps because of them, did not seek to opt out during the coronavirus crisis.

They decided to put in hard work to meet the increasing demand for protective suits and items such as plastic masks and shoes, according to Wehbe.

She said that the management of Machghal El Oum took the safety of the women employees very seriously.

We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits.

Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum

There are currently 20 women working at a time, rotating based on a two-hour shift.

“We do not know whether or not we will increase the number,” she said. “We are working in a daily state of emergency that may change at any time.”

Wehbe said that the workshop was continuously sterilized; masks and gloves are provided; and temperature checks are carried out when the women arrive at the premises for work.

The seating arrangement is set up so the women are able to maintain a safe social distance.

Dr. Kamel Kuzbar, the Saida Municipality member responsible for tackling the coronavirus situation, praised and encouraged the women working at Machghal El Oum.

He said that the initiative aimed to address the problem of the lack of protective gear in the country.

Kuzbar said that the municipality cooperated fully with the workshop and other active institutions in its endeavor to take precautions and reduce the impact of the pandemic.

As well as cooperating with Machghal El Oum, he said, Saida Municipality was working to provide guidance, instructions and sterilization to the community.

It was also imposing home quarantine and distributing sterilization materials, food and medicine in areas of need.

In making these protective suits, the women of Machghal El Oum are doing their part to serve their country and its people.

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Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
People wait in line to get tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the town of Hasbaya, Lebanon, January 16, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 1 min 49 sec ago

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
  • Hospitals are running out of space and supplies as infections continue to rise

BEIRUT: Many doctors specializing in bacterial and infectious diseases expect a further jump in the number of people of infected with COVID-19 next week in Lebanon with hospitals exceeding their capacity.

On Sunday, the total number of laboratory-confirmed infections exceeded a quarter of a million people in the country.

In the first 17 days of the year 67,655 new cases were recorded, and the lockdown period is expected to be extended for at least 10 more days.

Suleiman Haroun, head of the Lebanese Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The epidemiological scene in Lebanon reflects part of the reality, not all of it. The real situation will be worse yet.”

He said: “All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed. Hospitals have exceeded their capacity.”

Pulmonologist and intensive care specialist Dr. Wael Jaroush said: “I have never seen anything like what I see in the hospitals now. I never imagined that I would ever go through such an experience. There is no room for patients in the emergency departments.

“They are dying in their homes. Some of them are begging to buy oxygen generators, new or second hand.

“The price of a new one is normally $700, yet people are selling used devices for about $5,000, and some patients are forced to buy them in foreign currency, meaning that the patient’s family buy the dollar on the black market for more than LBP8,000.”

Jaroush said that patients were infected with the virus because of mixing with other people at the end of last year and in the first 10 days of January. He expected that their number would increase during Monday and Tuesday. He would wait to see if the numbers declined on Wednesday and Thursday.

He said that 10-liter oxygen bottles and smaller ones are out of stock “because of the high demand on them, either for storage due to lack of confidence in the state, or because they are not available in hospitals.”

“As a doctor, I come across patients who tell me that they bought the oxygen bottle two months ago, for example, and put it in their homes, just as they did when they resorted to storing medicines.”

He pointed out: “These oxygen bottles do not last long. A COVID-19 patient who cannot find a vacant bed in the hospital and is asked to find oxygen and stay at home needs 40 or 50 liters of oxygen. So when the 10-liter oxygen bottle runs out, the patient dies because his heart stops. This is happening now and some patients have died in their homes.”

Jaroush said: “The cardiologist Dr. Mustafa Al-Khatib suffered from COVID-19 yesterday and could not find even a chair in the emergency department. Since yesterday we doctors have been trying to find a place for him so that he can have a blood test and a scan for his lungs. This is our situation.”

On Sunday, it was announced that the Military Hospital in Beirut also exceeded its capacity. The hospital cares for military personnel and their families.

This prompted its management to take 23 rooms in a private hospital that was damaged in the Beirut port explosion last August. The Lebanese Army Works Regiment is working to make it available within days to accommodate cases that need intensive care.

In addition to the lack of capacity, there was also a lack of medical supplies.

Activists on social media circulated calls to secure oxygen bottles that are needed for patients in hospitals that are needed for patients.

The search for hospital beds has caused disputes between the Lebanese Red Cross paramedics and some hospitals.

Georges Kettaneh, Lebanese Red Cross secretary-general, said: “The Red Cross responds to all crises in the country, especially COVID-19, and from the beginning we demanded hospitals to be ready. It was expected that disputes would arise between the Red Cross and some hospitals due to the decision of the Minister of Health in the caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, to receive all cases in hospitals.”

Assem Araji, the head of parliament’s health committee, said: “Despite the sanctions that the Ministry of Health decided to impose on some private hospitals that did not respond to the request to open departments to receive patients, certain hospitals did not comply. We have reached a catastrophic stage that calls for national responsibility.”

Araji expressed his belief that “a complete lockdown for 11 days is not sufficient to limit the spread of the virus. Rather, it should be closed for three weeks, as recommended by the World Health Organization.”

Many well-known figures in Lebanon have died of the coronavirus during the past days.