Medicine shortage in Lebanon puts patients on brink of death

Special A woman buys medicine at a pharmacy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A woman buys medicine at a pharmacy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 05 July 2021

Medicine shortage in Lebanon puts patients on brink of death

A woman buys medicine at a pharmacy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • A meal could cost more than LBP 2 million if economic collapse continues

BEIRUT: Doctors and pharmacists raised their voices on Monday in protest against the lack of medicine amid the deteriorating Lebanese currency crisis.

In a growing spate of crises, shortages of fuel and medicine continued over the weekend.

These materials, as well as the food supply, are imported.

Food prices have soared. The price of sunflower oil has jumped by over 1,100 percent since the summer of 2019. The price of beef and rice has risen by 627 percent and 545 percent respectively over the same period.

The price of eggs has shot up by 450 percent, with labneh (Strained yogurt) costs jumping 275 percent.

Lebanese TV and social media circulated images of people screaming in the streets for milk and medicine, and electricity to save seriously ill children, who need oxygen devices in their homes.

Pharmacist Samer Soubra told Arab News: “People come to the pharmacy to ask for simple medicines, such as ear drops, but I do not have them.”

Soubra added: “I think that importers have a stockpile of medicines, but they refrain from distributing them to put pressure on the Banque du Liban to continue subsidizing medicine.

“There is no political decision yet to lift subsidies on medicine. It’s chaos.

“I expect within 10 days the scream will rise because sick people will get worse without treatment.”

Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh, a gastroenterologist, told Arab News: “A colleague of mine, a cardiologist, was not able to install a spring into a patient’s artery because there was no blood thinner and left him at the mercy of those who trade in people’s health.”

Dr. Sukkarieh pointed out that “the most missing medicines are those related to arterial hypertension and blood clots, and we do not know the reason.”

He asked: “How can I believe the importers who say that their drug stores are empty? It is a blackmail operation against the Banque du Liban.”

Dr. Sukkarieh held “those concerned with resolving the drug crisis responsible for any harm to, or death of any patient.”

The Syndicate of Pharmaceutical Importers had warned of running out of its “stocks of hundreds of essential medicines that treat chronic and incurable diseases.”

It suggested that “the stocks of hundreds of other medicines are likely to run out during July if we do not re-import as soon as possible.”

The syndicate indicated that “the import process has been almost completely halted for more than a month due to the accumulation of dues in favor of the exporting companies, whose value exceeded $600 million, and importing companies not obtaining prior approvals from the Banque du Liban to re-import.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese continue to struggle with an energy crisis, as they endure contradictory statements from those responsible for securing fuel.

A member of the Syndicate of Gas Station Owners, George Brax, said that “things are heading toward a temporary solution after a ship loaded with gasoline began unloading its cargo. This will comfort the market and allow some closed stations to reopen their doors.”

Meanwhile, the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut expected that “the Lebanese family will spend about LBP 2,130,000, or $1,420 at the official exchange rate, on one main meal within one month, which is equivalent to almost three times the minimum wage.”

The observatory followed the repercussions of the collapse of the Lebanese pound and monitored the inflation of basic food prices during June.

It said that “72 percent of families in Lebanon, whose income does not exceed LBP 2,400,000 per month, will find it difficult to secure their livelihood at the minimum, based on the household income figures stated in the Central Statistics Administration 2019 report and in light of the national currency losing about 99 percent of its value in less than two years.”

The Crisis Observatory report, a copy of which was obtained by Arab News on Monday, suggested that “this inflation will continue, with the expectation of a greater decline in the value of the Lebanese pound in the coming months.”

It added that if this trend continues, then the “food insecurity of the Lebanese population becomes a difficult reality, knowing that Lebanon has not yet reached the maximum effects of the deep crisis.”