Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon May 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon May 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 May 2022

Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
  • Red Cross official issues warning over medicine
  • Protests continue over monetary policy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s dollar exchange rate crisis is leaving patients unable to pay for hospitalization, as black market rates hit LBP37,000 on Friday.

Doctors, patients, and hospital owners, who protested in the vicinity of government ministries and the central bank in Hamra Street on Thursday, called for the dollar accounts of hospitals and doctors to be liberalized and warned that things were going to get worse.

Red Cross secretary-general, Georges Kettaneh, said it was important to “think more about securing the medications for difficult and chronic diseases because the situation has become very serious.”




Workers remove sections of the concrete barrier at the entrance of parliament. (AFP)

He added that Red Cross volunteers sometimes noticed that patients being transported to hospital were in poor condition because they were unable to find the medication they needed.

BACKGROUND

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses.

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses. It previously covered between 75 and 100 percent of the cost.

Mohammed Karaki, director-general of the National Social Security Fund, said: “Private hospitals insinuating that they might ask patients to pay for the entire hospital bill and collect the amount by themselves later from insurance companies is an inappropriate intimidation.”

Hospitals are protesting their inability to collect funds from banks and, therefore, their inability to provide medical services to insured patients.

“Insurance tariffs and all the other insurance parties can no longer cope with the reality in the current circumstances,” said Karaki. “However, a range of ideas is being contemplated, including the possibility to halt medication provision to focus on hospitalization to secure the real prices so that hospitals don’t charge patients with any difference except as provided by law.”

The ongoing economic crisis is also changing the scene of neighborhoods in Beirut and its suburbs.

Many shops preferred to be in darkness rather than have a generator subscription because they could not cover its cost from declining sales, said one person.

People are having to buy water from private tankers due to outages. But tank owners are charging their customers in dollars due to the cost of gas.

On Thursday and Friday, there were strikes and protests from people in the medical and healthcare sector, patients, public drivers, owners of bakeries and ovens, and security and military contractors, who were protesting about the monetary policy that had brought Lebanon to breaking point.

Hospitals continued their strikes on Friday and suspended all services except for admitting urgent conditions.

Taxi drivers set up roadblocks on the Ring Bridge in the heart of Beirut, blocking intersections between the east and west of the capital, to protest against surging petrol and diesel prices.

These prices exceed the capacity of the general public, leading to additional power outages in households relying on diesel generator subscriptions to ensure minimal lighting.

The monthly bill is now being charged in dollars and is at least $40.

Bakery owners protested in front of the Economy Ministry to demand that wheat be secured for mills and the price for a bread bundle commensurate with the exchange rate.

A middle-sized bread bundle was LBP15,000 on Friday.

“The pricing of the bread bundle was subjected to the high exchange rate of the dollar,” said Antoine Saif, head of the Bakery Owners’ Syndicate in Mount Lebanon.

Gas stations were closed on Friday and the owners’ syndicate called for a protest to demand a radical solution to the current situation because it could no longer afford the heavy losses.

Georges Brax, a spokesperson for the Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate, said that banks kept delaying the payment of the oil-importing companies’ dollar dues, which represented the price of petrol imported according to the Sayrafa platform.

Brax claimed that banks also kept delaying the advance authorizations from the Central Bank, which would result in the continued rationing of gas delivery to the local market by these companies and a decrease in the availability of gas to the consumer at stations, despite the presence of scarce amounts in Lebanese warehouses.

“This will thus prompt the return of the crisis, which is something that no one wants,” he warned.

Talks are being held at the Economic and Social Council's headquarters to study how to improve the incomes of people in the private sector.

Economic entities and the General Labor Union were discussing the erosion of purchasing capacity and living burdens due to the high exchange rate of the dollar, said Mohammed Choucair, head of the Economic Bodies.

He added: “We are heading toward strengthening these incomes.”

The US credit rating agency Fitch has warned that Lebanon's exit from debt default was still difficult after inconclusive parliamentary elections.

In a report, the agency said the current reality further complicated the country's ability to implement financial and economic reforms.


Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
Updated 31 min 25 sec ago

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
  • Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces
  • The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen will not begin discussing other issues with the Houthis under a UN-brokered truce until the militia accepts a proposal to open roads in Taiz, a government official has told Arab News.
Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces that would partially ease the Houthi siege on the city, with the aim of resolving stalled negotiations between the two sides.
The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege but accepted the proposal as long as other roads opened during subsequent rounds of talks.
But the Houthis rejected Grundberg’s proposal, dealing a blow to the talks and the truce that has by and large been holding since April 2.
“We will not accept discussing other issues or offer more concessions before they agree to the UN envoy’s proposal,” the Yemeni government official said anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters. “We have not received any invitation (from the UN envoy) to take part in a new round of discussion on the Taiz file.”
The Houthis alternatively proposed opening an old, rough road connecting Taiz with the countryside.
Taiz residents and local government officials told Arab News that the proposed road was narrow, unpaved, and had been abandoned for over six decades.
The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Yahiya Abdullah Al-Razami, said on Friday that the movement would unilaterally open the old road, claiming it had not pledged to open main roads in Taiz when it signed the truce.
“This is not true. The Houthis signed the elements of the truce that include Sanaa airport, Hodeidah port, and opening roads in Taiz,” the government official said.
The Yemeni army has accused the Houthis of breaking the truce more than 100 times last week in Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Jouf, and Marib, and killing a soldier and wounding four more.
In Taiz, the army on Saturday said it had shot down a small explosives-rigged drone sent by the Houthis to government-controlled areas north of the city.
The Houthis have been laying siege to Taiz for the past seven years, having failed to take control of it due to resistance from government troops.
Yemeni and Western diplomats have criticized the Houthis for refusing to lift their siege and called on the movement to respond positively to peace efforts.
“The UN calls for access around Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Houthis must find a way to compromise on the UN proposal so we can move forward to broader issues important to Yemenis,” US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking told France 24 Arabic TV on Friday.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak warned that the Houthis’ unwillingness and delays in opening roads in Taiz would jeopardize the truce.
He said his government had accepted the UN proposal on Taiz as it was a test of the militia’s motivations for making peace and ending the war.
“Lifting the siege is one of the main elements of the truce. We affirm our keenness to respect the truce and treat it as a space of hope and a window for peace. But the continued intransigence of the Houthi militia threatens the truce very seriously,” he told Lebanon’s Annahar Al-Arabi news website.


UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
Updated 34 min 37 sec ago

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
  • The UN’s top Libya envoy Stephanie Williams says ‘riots and acts of vandalism’ were ‘totally unacceptable’
  • Libyan protesters say they will keep demonstrating until all the ruling elites quit power

CAIRO/TRIPOLI: A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the soaring summer heat, have been enduring power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages, and crumbling services and infrastructure, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.
In both the main eastern city of Benghazi — the cradle of the 2011 uprising — and the capital Tripoli, thousands took to the streets to chants of “We want the lights to work.”
Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December, following challenges such as legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
Libya’s energy sector, which during the Qaddafi era financed a generous welfare state, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a wave of forced closures of oil facilities since April.
Supporters of the eastern-based administration have shut off the oil taps as leverage in their efforts to secure a transfer of power to Bashagha, whose attempt to take up office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation has announced losses of more than $3.5 billion from the closures and a drop in gas output, which has a knock-on effect on the power grid.
(With AP and AFP)


Palestinians will hand bullet that killed journalist to US, official says

Palestinians will hand bullet that killed journalist to US, official says
Updated 6 sec ago

Palestinians will hand bullet that killed journalist to US, official says

Palestinians will hand bullet that killed journalist to US, official says

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian Authority will hand over the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank last month to US authorities, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.
“We agreed to transfer the bullet to the Americans for examination,” Akram Al-Khatib, general prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, told Reuters without providing further details.


UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
Updated 02 July 2022

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
  • The dispatched field hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms

The UAE has sent three planes of medical supplies, including a 1,000 square-meter-field hospital, to aid the injured of Afghanistan's earthquake that killed over 1,000 people and wounded scores more, Emirates new agency (WAM) reported on Saturday.
The dispatched hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms equipped with medical supplies and devices, the WAM statement read.
The planes also carried 16 metric tonnes of equipment and a medical team to operate the hospital and provide urgent medical services.
The UAE earlier established an air bridge to transport aid in the wake of the disaster.
The relief efforts come as Afghan authorities reported a shortage of food, shelter and medical supplies for the victims of the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades.

Last week, the country dispatched a plane carrying 30 tons of urgent food supplies to Afghanistan as aid continued to pour in from different parts of the world.


Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists
Updated 02 July 2022

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists

Egypt seeks to attract more Italian tourists
  • Minister holds talks with tourism chief during visit to Rome

CAIRO: Khaled El-Anany, Egyptian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, has held talks with Ivana Jelinic, president of the Federation of Italian Tourism Companies, as part of efforts to attract more Italian tourists to Egypt.

The meeting was held at the Egyptian Embassy in Rome during El-Anany’s visit to the Italian capital.

Egypt’s plans to attract more tourists from various markets, including Italy, were reviewed at the meeting, which also discussed organizing a number of introductory visits for leading Italian tour operators and media representatives.

These visits will include Sharm El-Sheikh and other tourist cities in South Sinai in preparation for the coming winter season.

Joint advertising campaigns in Italy were also discussed, amid a growing interest among Italians in Egyptian cities and tourist destinations.