Lebanon News

Shortage of supplies threatens medical sector: health minister

The Order of Nurses in Lebanon sounded the alarm over a lack of pay and poor working conditions during a protest in Beirut, Nov. 26, 2019. (The Daily Star/NNA, HO)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Health Minister Jamil Jabak Tuesday warned of a threat to the medical sector amid concerns over the import of medical supplies.

“We are suffering from a major lack of medical supplies and equipment, and if this continues, we could reach a very dangerous situation,” Jabak said at a news conference.

He added that while Banque du Liban had committed to securing medicine at the official U.S. dollar-Lebanese pound exchange rate, it had not committed to do the same for medical equipment.

Jabak said the Central Bank had agreed to supply medical equipment importers with 50 percent of the dollars they needed at the official rate and that suppliers would have to foot the bill for the rest, meaning “hospitals will raise prices.”

“I don’t think the Lebanese people, with everything they are going through, can put up with their medical bills being increased.”

A representative of medical suppliers later condemned the decision by Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh to only supply half of the required dollars, saying it put patients’ lives at risk. “Any sick person will be able to enter the hospital ... but they won’t get the treatment they need,” the representative said in a news conference.

Amid an ongoing dollar shortage in the country, concerns have risen over the availability of medical supplies, along with fuel, wheat and other imports, as importers have been forced to pay unofficial rates.

Over the weekend the unofficial exchange rate reached more than LL2,000 to the dollar, well above the official pegged rate of LL1,507.5.

Also Tuesday, the Order of Nurses threatened an open-ended strike if measures were not taken to ensure they received salary payments. Hospitals and doctors staged a one-day “warning strike” on Nov. 16 over delayed government payments and difficulty accessing medical supplies.

“The work environment is not safe, salaries are low and a large number of nurses have not received their salaries for some time,” Myrna Abi Abdallah Doumit, the order’s president, said during a televised news conference.

If demands are not met, the order said it would begin a series of escalating protest actions, potentially leading to an open-ended strike.

She said the nursing sector differed from industrial and trade sectors because production could not be measured. “It is a sector of life and therefore its rights and salaries must be a priority over other needs,” Doumit said.

“The economic loss can be compensated for at any time, but what we lose in health cannot be compensated for. ... The health sector is moving into the unknown and hospitals cannot continue without nurses,” she said.

The work environment for nurses has long been a major challenge in Lebanon.

The sector suffers from a nurses shortage - a major contributor to the problem of working conditions that discourages nurses from continuing in the profession.

Many are pushed to leave the country for better opportunities elsewhere or driven to find work in better hospitals, leaving some areas further understaffed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 27, 2019, on page 2.




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