Father of girl with cancer says crisis in Lebanon is hitting hospitals and food supplies: ‘There’s no money and no work’

World

The economic crisis in Lebanon is never-ending and now it’s ravaging the hospitals where medicines are running out.

On the oncology outpatients ward we meet four-year-old Rudayana.

She is fighting leukaemia but she still finds the strength to wipe a tear from her father Fawaz’s eyes.

The problems in healthcare are a symptom of much wider crisis
Image:
The problems in healthcare are a symptom of much wider crisis

He kneels beside her with his head in his hands.

It is a portrait of desolation.

Making sure she has enough medication has left him at breaking point.

“I feel despair but at the same time, I get up every day for her,” he tells me.

More on Beirut

Rudayana is fighting leukaemia, but there is not always enough medicine
Image:
Rudayana is fighting leukaemia, but there is not always enough medicine

“We have just about 10% of the minimum needs for our daily life. You can’t put her in school, get her medicine, or do anything for her.

“You can’t even guarantee her nutritious food to help her after chemo. There’s no money and no work.”

In the next bed at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, Beirut, another family is facing the same struggle.

Helen Kazazian was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four months ago and worries there won’t be the drugs to finish her treatment.

She’s had four sessions of chemotherapy so far, but still has two left.

“Sometimes the doctor said ‘Inshallah, Helen you will get it’.

“We don’t know, we have to go and see, I have to go, or Robert [her husband] by myself to see if they will give us the medicine, or not yet. This time it was ok, thank God”

Helen Kazazian, and her husband Robert, are worried she will not get her medicine
Image:
Helen Kazazian, and her husband Robert, are worried she will not get her medicine

Lebanon used to rank highly for medical care but standards have plummeted, along with a currency which has lost 90% of its value, making essentials unaffordable – the state is badly in debt, inflation is rampant and unemployment is becoming normal.

We visit the hospital’s pharmacy and the empty shelves tell their own story.

Even drugs like penicillin are in short supply.

But the crisis affecting the healthcare system is really a symptom of a much wider crisis, or series of crises, compounded by corruption and bad governance.

For doctors on the frontline it is like walking through an abyss every day.

Head of oncology, Dr Issam Chehade, says the problems are getting worse, with drug shortages and patients not receiving care in his department.

Dr Issam Chehade says the problems are getting worse
Image:
Dr Issam Chehade says the problems are getting worse

Step outside the hospital and there’s no escaping this crisis.

It has the country in a vice-like grip.

On the way across town to a private hospital, to see if the situation is any better, we pass the endless fuel queues.

People wait in their cars in the sweltering Mediterranean sun for a few gallons.

Some are turned away before they manage to fill up.

It’s estimated by the United Nations that 78% of Lebanon’s population is now living in poverty, leaving some scavenging for whatever they can find.

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July: Lebanon plunged into economic crisis

The number of people rooting through bins, or begging on the streets is growing all the time.

But it doesn’t matter what walk of life you are from, for everyone survival is difficult.

And when we arrive at St George hospital we find there are no exceptions.

Retired pharmacist Dickran Kaprelian has a type of blood cancer.

The drugs he was on have run out and he’s now starting a different treatment.

His wife Mary is also sick with ovarian cancer.

“The medication he takes doesn’t exist anymore – I don’t know, that’s what they say so they just switched to another medication so we’ll see what will be the result,” she said.

Mary Kaprelian, and her husban Dickran, both have cancer
Image:
Mary Kaprelian and her husband Dickran both have cancer

“We are fighting for everything – even a little bit of breath. Even if we want to eat, even if we want to go somewhere we don’t have gasoline.

“It’s [a] very very bad situation. I don’t think any country [has] such a state like we do – that’s what I think.”

What’s happening here has left many questioning their future.

Already many medics have emigrated – acute staff shortages add to the list of problems.

In this economic crisis, the worst for more than 100 years, even the hospitals have now become casualties.

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