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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Lebanon Covid-19 vaccine funding at risk over MP inoculations

Lebanon is set to receive $34 million for vaccines under the World Bank's Lebanon Health Resilience Project

Men receive a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine dose during a coronavirus vaccination campaign at Lebanese American University Medical Center-Rizk Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2021. Reuters.
Men receive a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine dose during a coronavirus vaccination campaign at Lebanese American University Medical Center-Rizk Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon February 16, 2021. Reuters.

A decision to vaccinate Lebanese MPs and Parliamentary aides over the age of 75 against Covid-19 could breach transparency and equality agreements with the World Bank, its regional director said on Tuesday.

State run media said 16 MPs had received a vaccination on Tuesday with teams from the health ministry.

Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank Regional Director for the Middle East, said the move was not in line with plans agreed with the government for the body to fund the programme.

"This is not in line with the national plan agreed with @WorldBank and we would record it breach of terms and conditions agreed with us for fair and equitable vaccination. Everyone has to register and wait for their turn!" Mr Kumar Jha wrote on Twitter in reply to a Lebanese reporter’s tweet regarding the plan to vaccinate MPs.

“Upon confirmation of violation, World Bank may suspend financing for vaccines and support for Covid-19 response across Lebanon!! I appeal to all, I mean all, regardless of your position, to please register and wait for your turn,” he added.

A member of the national Covid-19 taskforce said he was aware of the vaccinations of MPs but had no information regarding the World Bank official’s comment.

"All the MPs who received the jab have registered on the official platform and are eligible for the jab according to their age and their turn has come (to receive the vaccine) and this is what we did," parliament secretary Adnan Daher said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency (NNA).

Abdul Rahman Bizri, the head of the national Covid-19 committee did not respond to multiple attempts by The National to contact him.

A spokesperson for the World Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

At a press conference in his house in the southern city of Sidon, Mr Bizri told the press that "the logical step" for him was to resign, but that he will not step down in order to continue his work in the inoculation programme. Mr Bizri also said he received two calls from Mr Kumar Jha and that his view is that “we to face the problem and fix it”.

He was unaware that 16 MPs were vaccinated in Parliament on Tuesday and learnt about it in the media, he said.

"What happened was unacceptable, as a committee we refuse it."

He said the committee will meet tomorrow evening to discuss the matter. Mr Bizri added that he wants to know why the parliamentarians received preferential treatment.

World Bank support

Lebanon began a national vaccination programme earlier this month when 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived from Belgium in a scheme financed by a special redistribution of World Bank development funds.

Under the scheme, $34 million was made available to fund vaccines for 2 million people, with groups such as health workers and those with co-morbidities made a priority. It is separate from the UN’s Covax scheme.

Yet despite a fanfare opening day, the programme has been beset by fears of cronyism and low levels of registration for the vaccine, and the country remains a long way off vaccinating all of its front-line healthcare workers.

The World Bank, in collaboration with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, vowed to monitor Lebanon's national vaccination drive to ensure just and equitable vaccine distribution.

Representatives from IFRC have been present at vaccination centres across Lebanon to monitor registration, inoculation, observation, and adherence to safety measures.

The vaccination drive, under the watchful eyes of the World Bank, kicked off under the slogan "No Wasta," Arabic for no cronyism.

Sanitary workers disinfect the entrance of the Lebanese Parliament in central Beirut on March 10, 2020 amid the spread of coronavirus in the country. AFP
Sanitary workers disinfect the entrance of the Lebanese Parliament in central Beirut on March 10, 2020 amid the spread of coronavirus in the country. AFP

the World Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

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Coronavirus in Lebanon

Updated: February 23, 2021 06:38 PM

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