Lebanon's hospitals are running out of medicine — and staff : Goats and Soda Hospitals are running out of medicines. Staff members are leaving. And some parents will even leave a newborn stranded in the intensive care unit if they can't afford the fees for additional care.

Lebanon's hospitals are running out of medicine and staff in ongoing economic crisis

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It's hard to express just how lovely it is to see Lebanon, the city of Beirut, between the Mediterranean and the mountains. People walk through narrow streets down to the shore and sometimes sit on rocks in the water. That sometimes prosperous country faces hard times. An economic crisis in its third year has undermined health care, and that affects people from the first moments of their lives. NPR's Arezou Rezvani reports from a Lebanese hospital.


AREZOU REZVANI, BYLINE: Baby Suleiman has been in this world for only a few hours.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: He squirms around in his crib in a striped onesie, wearing tiny blue mittens. His mother is recovering in a bed next to him at this government hospital here in Tripoli. It was a difficult pregnancy for 27-year-old Katya El Rahi.

KATYA EL RAHI: (Through interpreter) I had a herniated disk and the medication I needed was hard to find. And when I did find it, it was very expensive.

REZVANI: There's no way Suleiman will get a sibling anytime soon, she says. They can't afford it. His grandmother, Diba Aysatado, was also there, gazing adoringly at her grandchild. I ask her what she hopes for him as he begins this life.

DIBA AYSATADO: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: "May he live to see better days than what we're living through," she tells me.

What Lebanon is living through is a massive economic crisis. It has caused severe medical shortages and soaring health care costs. The government mismanaged and wasted the country's cash reserves for years. Then, in 2019, the financial system collapsed.

Taha Lara, the head nurse of the hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, witnesses the impact on his patients every day.

TAHA LARA: (Through interpreter) A lot of the babies we see, the mother hasn't been to a doctor, hasn't been taken care of throughout her pregnancy, or she has the baby at home or a midwife. And the outcomes are worse.

REZVANI: Babies are born sicker, weaker and sometimes they're even left stranded at the hospital.

LARA: (Through interpreter) If you had come yesterday, we had two babies. Their parents had left them because they didn't have the money to take them home. They just left the babies.

REZVANI: In Beirut, the Rafik Hariri University Hospital is now on the brink of collapse.

RAIDA BITAR: The drugs that we are missing at the hospital is more than the drugs that we have.

REZVANI: That's the chief pharmacist, Raida Bitar. She oversees what used to be a diverse inventory of drugs and medicines. But today, as she checks, she realizes the hospital is running low on a basic emergency treatment.

BITAR: Oh, no adrenaline. We are short on adrenaline, too. We don't have that.

REZVANI: Adrenaline, or epinephrine, is meant for severe allergic reactions, and the shelf is empty. In fact, many shelves here are empty.

BITAR: This is the chemotherapy medications that - this is all what we have.

REZVANI: It looks like there is not much left.

BITAR: Yes. Actually, yes.

REZVANI: The shortages are so bad that some patients ration treatments or skip them altogether.

BITAR: We have patients that haven't been taking their medications for several months. Two days ago, we have a patient who haven't been taking his anti-diabetic medications. He had to have both of his legs amputated. The - all the complications are coming from the - either the shortage of medications or because the medications have - the prices of them has increased so much so that many patients cannot afford them.

REZVANI: And the problems don't even stop there.

HUSSEIN KATAYA: I am thinking the first opportunity, I would leave. I send my CV to many country.

REZVANI: That's Hussein Kataya, the hospital's emergency room supervising nurse. Kataya's salary of $1,800 a month is now worth less than $200, and so he hopes to join a growing exodus of nurses and doctors leaving Lebanon for a more stable life abroad. On my way out of his office, I spot a pile of food sitting on a chair.

What is this?

KATAYA: I'm waiting to give them - practical nurse who has lower salaries.

REZVANI: He tells me higher-paying hospital staff donate food to nurses who are really struggling to get by. If Kataya does leave, he'll join more than 120 nurses from this hospital who've left in the past few years. That's a third of the nursing staff gone.

The choice to leave is something doctors here are also struggling with. A few floors up, Dr. Issam Chehade is making rounds in the oncology department.

ISSAM CHEHADE: I see many patient - their disease progressed due to the shortage and the non-availability of these drugs.

REZVANI: Would you go so far as to say that this crisis has been deadly for some patients?

CHEHADE: Yes, yes. I can confirm, yeah. Yes, unfortunately. This shortage of medication led to the deterioration of some patient, leading to the death of these patient.

REZVANI: To lose them in this way - not because of limitations in medicine or a hopelessly aggressive cancer, but because of an economic crisis - has been demoralizing for Dr. Chehade.

CHEHADE: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: "I am this close to leaving the country," he tells me. Already, about three-quarters of 60-some doctors at his hospital have left. But he just can't bring himself to do it.

CHEHADE: (Non-English language spoken). Who will take care of these poor patients?

REZVANI: Dr. Chehade leads me down a hall to a quiet room to meet one of those patients in his care.

MOHAMMAD HALABI: My name is Mohammad Halabi.

REZVANI: Last year, Halabi started experiencing a strange sensation in his ears and frequent nosebleeds. A biopsy revealed a rare form of cancer. And for the last five months, he's been getting treated here.

HALABI: (Through interpreter) Hasn't been easy. Yesterday, I bought five medications. I paid $32. Earlier this year, it cost me $5.

REZVANI: He says his friends and his family have been helping him pay for it all.

HALABI: (Non-English language spoken).

REZVANI: But it may not be enough. The medical staff here say there may not be much time or medical care left here in Lebanon for all that Halabi still needs.

Arezou Rezvani, NPR News, Beirut.


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