BEIRUT: Health Minister Jamil Jabak announced Tuesday morning that pharmacies and health centers are running out of vaccines and essential medicines.
Speaking at a news conference, Jabak said that roadblocks, as well as "attacks on vehicles" carrying medical supplies from central reserves in Beirut, have led to shortages of medicine at most of the pharmacies in areas far from Beirut and at 50 of the ministry’s health centers.
He did not offer details of the alleged attacks.
He cautioned that hospitals are running out of oxygen as well as diesel for generators, noting that many people rely on assisted breathing devices, and generators are vital given the unpredictability of the state electricity supply.
Jabak told reporters that the closure of banks has led to medicines being held at customs, with importers lacking the cash to pay duties on medical supplies. Banks have been closed since Oct. 18 after nationwide protests against the ruling class and state corruption swept the country.
He added that local medicine factories are unable to produce the required quantities of drugs because employees are unable to get to work.
Jabak also alleged that doctors are being prevented from getting to work and are often being asked to pay a “kickback” of between $3 to $50 to pass roadblocks.
Around 2,000 cancer patients have been left without medicine as a result of these disruptions, according to Jabak, who described the problems facing the hospital sector as “untenable” and who warned that a “social and medical catastrophe” would follow if this problem is not resolved.
Protesters took to the streets Oct. 17 against proposed tax hikes by the government. While the government withdrew its proposals, people remained in the streets, demanding the removal of the ruling class, an end to the sectarian-based ruling system, early parliamentary elections and the return of “looted public funds.”