BEIRUT: Private hospitals will close to most patients for one day next Friday as Lebanon's medical community sends its most direct signal yet to authorities over the dire situation facing the sector.
Only patients receiving chemotherapy and dialysis, as well as those with emergencies, will be admitted next Friday, the Syndicate of Private Hospitals announced Friday.
The announcement came in a news conference that bluntly laid out the enormous problems facing the medical community, bringing together representatives from the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, the Order of Physicians and a group of importers of medical supplies and equipment.
Most pressingly, the state has failed to pay private hospitals since 2011, the representatives said, and that hospitals had reached a point where they could no longer pay for supplies and medicine.
“A big health catastrophe will ensue [if these problems are not solved],” warned Sleiman Haroun, the president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals.
Haroun has repeatedly warned about the state's nonpayment. Last year, he said the state owed hospitals $1 billion in arrears; on Friday, he said that number had grown to around $1.3 billion. “The strike has nothing to do with the current situation,” he said, an apparent reference to the nationwide uprising that began Oct. 17.
But the health sector's worries do concern the current monetary challenges facing the country. At the news conference, a representative of medical suppliers said they weren’t able to import anymore because there aren't enough dollars, and called on the Central Bank to provide more liquidity.
A recent shortage of dollars has caused banks to stop exchange operations, sending importers to exchange houses who often charge higher than the official rate centered at LL1507.5 to the dollar – if those exchange houses have dollars to sell. Importers must pay for goods in dollars.
“The supplies available in the warehouse are enough for a maximum one month," the medical suppliers' representative warned. "They are 100 percent imported and there are no alternatives available for them in Lebanon.”
Hospitals in turn are unable to buy the necessary supplies and equipment, according to the representatives present. But even if there were dollars available, the hospitals would still need the state to pay them in order to pay the importers.
Furthermore, “importing these supplies takes at least two to three months,” Haroun warned.