Lebanon to run out of hundreds of medicines by the end of July

Drug shortages and long power cuts have pushed Lebanese health care to the brink

Lebanon has run out of many essential medicines and will be short of hundreds more by the end of July, a medical trade body said on Sunday.

Drugs for breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses are either out of stock or running low, the Medical Equipment & Devices Importers Syndicate said. It was its second warning in two weeks about the impact of the country’s economic crisis on the medical sector.

“Hundreds of essential medicines for chronic and incurable diseases are out of stock, and hundreds more will be unavailable by the end of July if we do not start importing again as soon as possible,” a statement from the syndicate said.

The warning is the latest sign that Lebanon’s healthcare sector, once among the best in the Middle East, is now crumbling owing to a severe economic crisis.

Lebanon imports 80 per cent of its drugs, but central bank’s declining foreign currency reserves, which are needed to pay for imports, have caused payment delays and shortages. Medical importers have stopped purchasing drugs for more than a month because the bank failed to reimburse suppliers.

The central bank owes foreign pharmaceutical companies upwards of $600 million for drugs purchased since last December, the syndicate’s chief, Karim Gebara, told The National. As a result, importers cannot obtain new lines of credit.

Mr Gebara said the country was running out of medicine for chronic and serious diseases.

“Hormone therapy for breast cancer is already out of stock,” he said.

“Medicines for multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and blood pressure are either in short supply or out of stock.”

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since 2019. Rampant inflation has slashed the value of salaries and pushed more than half of the population into poverty, according to UN data.

Medicines have remained affordable for many because of the government’s subsidy on imports of essential items. But the lower cost has also encouraged smuggling and hoarding, which has made the shortages worse.

We have a major crisis. People are unable to find the drugs they need anywhere
Karim Gebara, head of Medical Importers Syndicate

Shortages of medicines have become common in the past year, but the situation now is critical, Mr Gebara said.

“We have a major crisis. People are unable to find the drugs they need anywhere,” he said, and urged authorities to find a long-lasting solution.

Lebanon’s healthcare sector has faced mounting difficulties in the past months.

Doctors have said that long power cuts, often lasting more than 20 hours a day, are affecting their work in hospitals.

A brain drain of skilled medical staff looking to emigrate to escape worsening living and working conditions is also a threat to the quality of care in the country.

About 1,000 of the 15,000 doctors registered with the Order of Physicians have left Lebanon since 2019.

The crisis comes as hospitals are under strain from dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The detection of the first cases of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 last week has raised fears of a new surge in cases.

Updated: July 5th 2021, 7:51 AM