Lebanon's economic meltdown and other crises are causing an “alarming brain drain” and shortages of supplies that mean hospitals are operating at 50 per cent of their capacity, World Health Organisation head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday.
After a visit to Lebanon to see the "dire" situation, he said the former Middle Eastern medical centre faced the problem of doctors, nurses and medical staff moving overseas and was short on essential resources and medicine.
Dr Tedros said the country of 6 million, including more than 1 million Syrian refugees, needed emergency and development support.
“A brain drain is occurring at an alarming speed," he said. "Almost 40 per cent of skilled medical doctors and almost 30 per cent of registered nurses have already left the country either permanently or temporarily."
Hospitals have been warning for months that a shortage of staff would exacerbate the crisis already ravaging the medical sector.
“Just today, we were told that two open-heart surgeries were cancelled because of limited fuel at the facility where they were planned to take place," Dr Tedros said.
"Basic and life-saving medicines are in short supply, with restrictions in foreign currency severely limiting importation of medicines and medical goods."
For months, pharmacy shelves have been bare, hit by panic buying, hoarding or price gouging and a lack of imports.
Banks have suspended international payments, the value of the national currency dropped more than 90 per cent and the government has run low on foreign reserves for imports.
On Friday, Dr Tedros visited a rebuilt WHO warehouse in Karantina, an area of Beirut devastated by a huge port explosion last year.
The warehouse, which stored drugs and medical supplies, was destroyed in the blast and rebuilt with donor assistance.
At least 214 people were killed and about 6,500 others wounded on August 4 last year when a shipment of ammonium nitrate carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused the blast.
Dr Tedros said the Lebanese people were not only struggling with the financial and political crises but also with the impact of the port explosion and the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is heavy. This is very heavy,” he said. “I don’t know if there is any country in such a situation, which is really dire.”
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for more than a year. A new government was named last week.
It pledged to make a priority of talks with the International Monetary Fund, which could open doors to assistance from donors.