BEIRUT: Nearly a hundred people were waiting to receive medicine at a Health Ministry dispensary when Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil paid a visit Wednesday.
Many of them had been there since before the center opened, but were still standing in a queue at noon.
Located next to Karantina Public Hospital near Beirut’s shore, the dispensary has been facing challenges like medicine shortages and wide-ranging corruption for the past two decades.
Surrounded by dozens of patients and their relatives in Karantina, Khalil reiterated his ministry’s ongoing efforts to help all patients receive their medicine without any delay.
“We are here today to announce important steps that will provide the people with their medical needs,” the minister said.
“Everyone should now obtain the new medical identification cards so that from next month and on, they can be given their medicine in an organized manner,” Khalil said, speaking before a crowd of frustrated patients who saw the minister’s visit as an opportunity to raise their concerns about health care.
An elderly woman, who declined to give her name, told The Daily Star that she had long fought for patients’ rights in the country. “I’ve been fighting for this since 1998 and I will not give up until all patients receive their rights,” said the woman, whose brother suffers from kidney failure.
Samir Diab, another patient standing in the line, told The Daily Star that he visits the dispensary once a month to get his medication. “I’ve been here since eight in the morning and I hope I’ll get it today,” he said.
Following a short tour of the dispensary, the health minister told reporters who joined him on the visit that he has called on the government to recruit 25 new staff members for the dispensary to help facilitate its work.
“In addition to that, the Cabinet agreed to fund the dispensary until the end of this year, including restocking 72 medicines,” said Khalil.
Khalil acknowledged that the Karantina dispensary needs renovation work on its facilities.
“We will also work on building new dispensaries around the country to help those Lebanese who live far from Beirut,” the minister added.
According to Khalil, some of the dispensary’s staff have illegally taken medicine out of the center.
“Whether under the pressure of their work or intentionally … some staff members have stolen medicine and sold it to patients elsewhere,” Khalil noted. “The Health Ministry has also decided to open a regulatory office that will oversee the Karantina dispensary and put an end to the ongoing corruption in it.”
“Although it brought negative political repercussions on me personally, I’ve decided to crack down on the corruption because it is hurting both the staff and the patients,” he added.
Khalil also told reporters that the Cabinet has recently approved granting the Health Ministry’s Committees of Medicine Distribution the freedom to hold as many meetings as necessary to approve patients’ applications.
“The law used to allow these committees to meet only four times in a month,” said Khalil, adding that “from now on, the committees will convene whenever needed until they go through all the patients’ applications.”
Addressing patients who frequently apply for medicine at the ministry, Khalil said it is the members of the ministry’s committees who decide the proper medication for patients. “The medicines recommended by the patients’ doctors will be adjusted by the committee members as they see fit,” said Khalil.
He said the members of the Committees of Medicine Distribution are fully competent to make such decisions.