Concern as mental health patients in Lebanon struggle to obtain medications

Residents pass by a shuttered pharmacy in Beirut during a nationwide strike on July 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
Residents pass by a shuttered pharmacy in Beirut during a nationwide strike on July 9, 2021. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 14 January 2022

Concern as mental health patients in Lebanon struggle to obtain medications

Concern as mental health patients in Lebanon struggle to obtain medications
  • Since the end of 2019, following the escalating economic and social collapse, the levels of mental disorders rose dramatically
  • Some estimates suggest one in five people suffers from anxiety, sadness or depression as a result of the crises affecting the country

BEIRUT: As the people of Lebanon continue to struggle with the effects of the financial crisis in the country, the political turmoil and the aftermath of the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port, concern is growing about the toll these crises are taking on mental health.

While no accurate statistics are available for the number of people who take sedatives, psychiatrists report that the number of patients visiting their clinics in the past year exceeded 12 a day.

Meanwhile, pharmacists estimate that people wishing to buy psychotropics — drugs that affect a person’s mental state, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication and mood stabilizers — constitute 30 to 35 percent of their customers.

According to some medical estimates, one in five people in Lebanon feels anxiety, sadness or depression as a result of the economic and social conditions in the country but medicine and healthcare are not readily available to many.

The Lebanese pound has plummeted in value against the dollar and soaring prices are exhausting incomes and salaries. The Beirut explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, and the armed clashes in the city’s Tayouneh neighborhood last October further fueled the sense hopelessness among many people.

“Since the end of 2019, following the escalating economic and social collapse, the levels of mental disorders rose dramatically,” said Hiba Dandachli, communications director of Embrace, an organization that provides mental health services.




Hiba Dandachli, communications director of Embrace, presenting the case of Lebanon's mental health patients during a TV talk show. (Twitter photo)

In 2021, she said, 20,000 people called the Embrace Lifeline, more than in any previous year. She said that a high proportion of the callers, mostly young people and teenagers, were suffering from conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia as result of the effects of the declining economic and social conditions and unemployment.

“The Lebanese took to the streets in 2019 to express their anger,” Dandachli said. “However, they feel despair due to the escalating crises.

“Without social justice and securing the fundamental right of stability, our services are limited to helping people, not providing solutions. We are sedatives.”

Joelle, 33, who works at an insurance company, said that she sought help from a psychiatrist because she was suffering from anxiety as a result the dire economic situation and the fear of being unable to provide for her the family.

“I started suffocating at night and experiencing panic attacks,” she said. The treatment that was prescribed requires medicine that is either unavailable in pharmacies or very expensive, she added.

A study published in December by the Lebanese American University indicated that “16.17 percent of young people, between 18 and 24 years old, suffer from severe depression since the Aug. 4 explosion, and 40.95 percent of women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“We mainly witness mood disorder cases at our clinic,” said Dr. Hanaa Azar, a psychiatrist who works with adults and children.

She believes that “between 70 and 80 percent of people in Lebanon take sedatives as a result of sleep disorders, stomach spasm, tachycardia, eczema, phobias, body pains and other physical symptoms that are symptoms of mental disorders.”

She added: “All generations suffer in one way or another from these disorders as a result of insecurity, especially children. As everyone returned to school and work, behavioral and academic disorders have emerged and obsessive-compulsive disorder cases have increased among adults.”

Doctors and psychiatrists are particularly worried about the shortage of medicines, especially since most are no longer subsidized by the state and the rest are only partly subsidized. Only cancer medications are still fully subsidized. Subsidies on drugs for neurological conditions depend on the price of the particular medicine.




Embrace volunteer health workers providing a lifeline service to residents of Lebanon who are psychologically affected by the worsening economic crisis. (Twitter photo)

“A very large number of Lebanese take a sedative drug, the price of which has risen from 25,000 Lebanese pounds to 420,000 within just two months.” The official exchange rate remains 1,500 pounds to the dollar, but this is unavailable and the currency currently trades on the informal black market at more than 30,000 pounds to the dollar.

Pharmacist Samer Soubra said he cannot understand why there are still medicine shortages even though prices have been increased to take account of the soaring exchange rate.

“Medicine distributors were reluctant to distribute to pharmacies in light of the high exchange rate,” he said. “Today, subsidies have been lifted on many medicines and they are now priced according to the exchange rate on the black market, yet some are still missing, including infant formula.”

Thousands of people in Lebanon resort to obtaining the medicines they need, especially psychotropics, from relatives in other countries or people who bring them from Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Jordan, or from donations made by Lebanese expatriates in France.

Still, many are going without. “Some people have stopped taking their medication and have experienced health setbacks,” said Azar.

Psychiatrist Dr. Yara Chamoun said that many Lebanese who previously showed no signs of mental disorders have begun to suffer from them amid the economic crisis, especially young people.

“In addition to cases of depression and anxiety, we find cases of alcohol and drug abuse,” she said. “Patients say that they became addicted to them because they help them sleep or forget about the harsh reality.”

Psychiatrists find themselves at an impasse in efforts to treat patients when the required medication is not readily available, Chamoun said.

“Some alternative psychotropics might not work well enough on the patient, while others may be too expensive for them to afford,” she explained.

Amal Moukarzel, a Lebanese expatriate in France, founded Les Amis du Liban de Colombes (Friends of Lebanon in Colombes) with her husband and friends to collect donations of medicines and send them to Lebanon.

“We now send around 120kg of medicines from time to time, obtained from hospitals and sent in cooperation with Middle East Airlines to local associations in Lebanon to be distributed to needy patients,” she said.

Despite the logistical issues she faces, Moukarzel said she insists on sending “more of these much-needed medicines, most of which are for diabetes and blood pressure, as well as psychotropics.”


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 7 sec ago

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes: Palestinian ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.
 


Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Syria intercepts Israeli missile attack: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Syrian air defenses intercepted Israeli missile strikes near Damascus, state media reported on Friday.
“Our air defenses stopped a number of hostile missiles in the airspace of the southern countryside of Damascus,” Syria’s official news agency SANA said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the target of the Israeli strikes were Iranian bases near Damascus.
The latest strike follows one on May 14 that killed five soldiers and another one on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged mounting hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

 


Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
Updated 20 May 2022

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for 'new republic' in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a "new republic", through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country's 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic", charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue" -- at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country's major actors.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.


Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
Updated 20 May 2022

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political

Iran holds pro-government rallies after price protests turn political
  • "The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumours that they spread and lies they tell," Guards commander Hossein Salami said
  • Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies

DUBAI: Thousands of supporters of Iran’s clerical establishment, including 50,000 Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia members, rallied on Friday, state media reported, after protests against rising food prices turned political.
“The enemies mistakenly think the Iranian people will respond to ...the rumors that they spread and lies they tell,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in televised remarks at the massive rally outside the capital Tehran, which marked a major victory in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s.
Iranian authorities say the unrest over rising food prices has been fomented by foreign enemies. On Friday, state television showed pro-government marchers chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” in southwestern cities of Yasuj and Shahr-e Kord, scenes of recent protests.
Iranians took to the streets last week after a cut in food subsidies caused prices to soar by as much as 300 percent for some flour-based staples. The protests quickly turned political, with crowds calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, echoing unrest in 2019 which began over fuel prices hike.
The government acknowledged the protests but described them as small gatherings. State media reported last week the arrests of “dozens of rioters and provocateurs.”
Authorities have also arrested a number of labor union and rights activists, accusing them of contacts with foreigners, a leading rights group said on Friday.
“The arrests of prominent members of civil society in Iran on baseless accusations of malicious foreign interference is another desperate attempt to silence support for growing popular social movements in the country,” said Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday showed what it described as details of the arrest of two French citizens earlier this month, saying they were spies who had sought to stir up unrest.
France has condemned their detention as baseless and demanded their immediate release, in an incident likely to complicate ties between the countries as wider talks stall on reviving a nuclear deal.
In recent months, teachers across Iran have staged protests demanding better wages and working conditions. Dozens have been arrested.
Social media users inside Iran say Internet services have been disrupted since last week, seen as an apparent effort by authorities to stop use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. Iranian officials denied any disruption to Internet access.