Lebanon’s deep health crisis exposed by infectious diseases — Global Issues

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Dr. Abdulrahman Bizri, Member of the Lebanese Parliament and Parliamentary Committee on Public Health, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Chairman of the National COVID Vaccine Commission and Response.
  • by Randa El Ozeir (Beirut & Toronto)
  • Inter Press Service

According to the report, there has been an increase in food- and water-borne infectious diseases, particularly viral hepatitis A, in the country. recent statistics released by the Lebanese Ministry of Health from figures collected in hospitals, health centres and laboratories.

The hepatitis A virus (HAV) causes hepatitis A, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which causes inflammation of the liver. The virus is spread primarily when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The disease is closely linked to unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, poor personal hygiene, and oral-anal sex.”

A persistent, difficult economic crisis has plagued the country for years and is seen as the main culprit for the deterioration of basic amenities, community facilities and public services.

Dr. Abdulrahman Bizri, member of the Lebanese Parliament and Parliamentary Committee on Public Health, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and chairman of the national COVID vaccination and response committee, blames the collapse of the Lebanese currency, negligence, the persistent economic, political and living conditions crisis, mismanagement and prevailing misconduct for the complications in preventing and containing diseases, including infectious forms.

“All these factors have led to the failure to maintain health infrastructure such as sewerage and supply clean water to households for direct or indirect human use through agricultural produce and/or livestock, resulting in the spread of many diseases, especially the infectious diseases transmitted through contaminated water such as cholera, hepatitis A, acute diarrhea, dysentery, salmonella and other diseases.”

Staff shortages and cutbacks

Poor government performance, lack of maintenance and investment, and corruption slowed the development of services and the response to health outbreaks.

Dr. Hussein Hassan, professor and researcher in food safety and food production at AUB, points to two other elements that have seriously affected the public health situation: reduced funding and the exodus of doctors.

“In hospitals, for example, we have staff shortages due to brain drain, while we suffer from inefficiency and ghost workers. Unfortunately, we also have to deal with bribery and cutbacks that delay much-needed projects.”

Can the Ministry of Health (MoH), in its current form in light of government spending, reduce its ability to control and protect against infectious diseases?

Bizri says that “MoH is facing an uphill battle due to its limited and low capacities. It is heavily dependent on the support of the international community, for example WHO, UNICEF and UNHCR, to bring these diseases under control.”

To bridge the gap, a comprehensive and holistic approach is needed to deal with the situation, based on short-term and long-term steps that need to be taken at many official and public levels. Dr. Hassan believes that “we need to strengthen outbreak surveillance, conduct mass vaccination campaigns, provide affected people with the necessary supplies, and improve water and sanitation in congested areas by installing purification systems and even distributing bottled water.”

Large presence of Syrian refugees

Poverty, poor public awareness, inadequate education, a social environment with minimal knowledge and disregard for good hygiene practices contribute to the transmission of infectious diseases.

Bizri refers to the significant presence of Syrian refugees living in difficult and poor conditions, gathered in unorganized camps with insufficient reliable health structures or safe drinking water. He praised the three-way collaboration between the Lebanese Ministry of Health, international organizations such as WHO and UNHCR, and the significant Lebanese private medical sector in the fight against diseases that threaten the country.

“Lebanon has managed to contain many epidemics that had the potential to spread. The Lebanese medical establishment, including civil society, has volunteered en masse to control the spread of these diseases. The health sector has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be at the forefront of the fight against communicable diseases.”

However, he has reservations about the “sceptical role of the UNHCR in combating many of the epidemics threatening Lebanon due to the concentrated presence of Syrian refugees, as the organization does not deal transparently with the Lebanese government and its official institutions.”

To ensure the continuity of preventive and control public health programs, Hassan has identified a number of long-term measures, including ‘economic and political stability, strengthening the health system, investing in improving water supply and sewerage systems, and developing and implementing maintenance programs related to water safety, particularly among refugees.’

He recognises the crucial role played by international cooperation and financial and technical support by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Mistrust has eroded the relationship between the health care system and its citizens.

“I believe that Lebanese citizens lost their trust in the health sector long ago,” Bizri said. “Yet they continue to depend on this sector, which offers affordable health and medical services compared to the cost of private healthcare in Lebanon. The country boasts advanced medical services and treatments, but public health still faces a significant deficit.”

IPS UN Office Report

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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