Lebanon health crisis looms with drug stocks under threat

Lebanon health crisis looms with drug stocks under threat
1 / 2
Anti-government protesters scuffle with Lebanese army soldiers in the town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut. (AP/File)
Lebanon health crisis looms with drug stocks under threat
2 / 2
Lebanese soldiers and security officers deploy during a rally called for by the Lebanese Federation for Tourism Industries in downtown Beirut on August 25, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 06 December 2020

Lebanon health crisis looms with drug stocks under threat

Lebanon health crisis looms with drug stocks under threat
  • ‘We are facing disaster,’ official warns after World Bank rejects medicine subsidies

BEIRUT: The World Bank has rejected an appeal by Lebanon to subsidize medicines in the crisis-hit country despite warnings that vital drug stocks are running low.

Head of the Lebanese Parliamentary Health Committee, Assem Araji, held talks with World Bank representatives via video conference on Friday in a bid to win additional financial support to ensure medical supplies in Lebanon remain stable.

However, the World Bank made clear that “no assistance will be provided to Lebanon without immediate government reforms,” Araji said.

The pivotal meeting follows a warning by Lebanon’s central bank that with reserves running low, it will be unable to subsidize essential goods, such as medicines, flour and fuel, beyond early 2021.

Concerns are mounting among Lebanese that the cost of drugs will soar amid a sharp devaluation in the local currency.

Health officials say a shortage in medicines has been worsened by panic buying and hoarding prompted by the central bank warning.

Araji said that the removal of subsidies on medicine will leave health institutions at risk of collapse.

“We will be facing a great disaster if the subsidy on essential medicines is removed. Our situation is very sad, and we are heading toward a major crisis,” he said.

The World Bank’s hard-line stance is part of growing international pressure on the Lebanese political leadership to form a government capable of implementing urgently needed reforms.

FASTFACT

Concerns are mounting among Lebanese that the cost of drugs will soar amid a sharp devaluation in the local currency.

On Saturday the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis tweeted a reminder to the country’s leaders “of the need for reforms that will restore the confidence of the Lebanese and international communities.”

Authorities warn that with no end in sight to the political deadlock, Lebanon is sliding toward economic, financial and social disaster.

MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar, from the Future bloc, told Arab News: “We do not know where the international pressure will lead. Prime Minister Hariri wants to form a government according to the French initiative, which was agreed on by everyone. But if there is no agreement, the country is heading toward chaos.”

Al-Hajjar said that Hariri has promised to be frank with the Lebanese, adding that “there are parties that always speak with the logic of quotas.”

However, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) said after a meeting of its political council on Saturday that Hariri ‘bears the responsibility for the delay in forming the government.”

The FPM said that it “will not back down in the battle for a forensic audit of the accounts of the central bank.”

MP Alain Aoun from the Strong Lebanon bloc said that “the basic components in the formation of the government cannot be neglected.”

The naming of ministers and election of ministerial portfolios is a “participatory process,” he added.

Aoun described the relationship between the FPM and the Future bloc as “characterized by estrangement.”

During a religious event on Saturday, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi renewed his criticism of “the loss of wisdom and conscience among political officials,” warning that “the coming days will be more difficult than today because of the condemned political practice.”

Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said one of its convoys had been attacked by civilians on Friday in the village of Kawtharia Al-Siyad in southern Lebanon.

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenente said that equipment was stolen from the convoy during the attack, which took place in the Zahrani area, outside the mission’s area of operations.

He said that freedom of movement and safety “are an integral part of the effective implementation of the (peacekeeping force’s) mandate.”

“Lebanese authorities must guarantee UNIFIL’s safety, security and freedom of movement,” he added.

UNIFIL and the Lebanese army are investigating the incident.


Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
Updated 2 min 23 sec ago

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
  • Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy

BEIRUT: The closure and curfew period in Lebanon has been extended for two more weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prompting people in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon to take to the streets.

The protests were spontaneous, considering that the neighborhoods from which they started are poor, where the residents work for daily wages.

The Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism in the caretaker government Ramzi Musharrafieh said on Tuesday that “230,000 families in Lebanon benefit from aid and have been receiving 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($263) per month since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that “25 percent of the Lebanese people do not need aid.”

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy and the failure to provide people with alternatives.

One of the protesters said: “Contracting COVID-19 and dying of it is easier than having my family and myself starve to death.”

Protesters in Tripoli took to Al-Nour Square on Monday after days of expressing their impatience and protesting outside the houses of the city’s officials.

One of the protesters said: “COVID-19 does not scare us. We cannot tolerate this life of humiliation anymore. The officials in power have starved and robbed us.”

The protesters clashed with the security forces — the army and the Internal Security Forces — hurling stones and water bottles at them. 

Their chants demanded financial compensation for the poorest families, who have not been able to work for two weeks and must wait a further two weeks before they can return to their jobs, resulting in a whole month without any financial income.

The protests spiralled out of control and turned into riots that ended with dozens of arrests. Several army personnel were deployed to control the situation in Al-Nour Square and its vicinity. Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it brought in six ambulances as 41 people were injured during the protests. The organization transferred 12 people to hospitals, while 29 were treated at the scene.

In support of the Tripoli protests, dozens gathered at the Ring Bridge in central Beirut.

Activists gathered in Sidon’s Elia Square for a vigil, amid security measures. The protesters chanted slogans denouncing the political authority’s arbitrary decisions, which they argue worsened the economic collapse. 

Some protesters said that 60 percent of the poor people in Lebanon are suffering because of these decisions, which were not accompanied with support for people who were laid off due to lockdown measures.

The protests extended to Taalbaya in the Bekaa and the coastal town of Jiyeh. The protesters moved from the poor neighborhoods of Beirut to Corniche el Mazraa and blocked the road, but the riot police reopened it.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News: “Things are heading toward chaos, and the authorities’ decisions are ill-considered. When forcing people to stop working, it is important to give them incentives and compensation. There are 120,000 daily workers impacted by the closure, which has come amid a severe economic crisis.”

He added: “They must exempt the factories that suspended production so that they can survive and not lay off their workers if the closure results in stopping operation. 

“What can the factories that have agreements with clients abroad do to deliver their products? This is the only sector that is bringing Lebanon fresh money and giving people jobs.”

Al-Asmar said that aid provided by the government “covers 47,000 families, and a further 8,000 taxi drivers have been added to them. This is a small percentage compared to the need among the general population.”

He continued: “Employees are now receiving half a salary or a very meager salary if they don’t lose their jobs as employers prefer shutting down their businesses to continuous losses.”

Bechara added: “We are facing a major social crisis. The daily workers are complaining of their inability to put bread on the table, while the state is unable to hold coordination meetings, so how can it provide compensation for those affected?”