#NoWasta: Covid vaccine monitoring in Lebanon to fight corruption

World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent team up to stop patronage and favouritism deciding queue for vaccinations

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The hashtag #NoWasta is being splashed across the World Bank regional vice president's social media pages as the organisation agrees to monitor Lebanon’s vaccine distribution to prevent favours or influence being used to secure doses.

Wasta, Arabic for nepotism, especially from officials and politicians, is a big worry for Lebanese who say that connections will probably decide their place in the queue for Covid-19 vaccinations, which began on Sunday.

But Ferid Belhaj, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, has repeatedly said he is committed to ensuring just and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

“Credibility and transparency are the two fundamental elements in all World Bank-financed programmes and projects around the world, without any exceptions," Mr Belhaj tweeted on Sunday.

"And let me say it very clearly: There will be #nowasta."

The World Bank has provided $34 million to fund Covid-19 vaccines in Lebanon – enough for two million people, or about a third of the population.

Many Lebanese posted #NoWasta online, joining the call for fair distribution.

Local media reported that several Lebanese leaders tried to secure vaccines for their entourage and supporters, disregarding global advice to give priority to  frontline staff, at-risk groups and the elderly.

The World Bank has teamed up with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to independently monitor Lebanon’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

Under this agreement, the federation will be in charge of “monitoring the compliance of the vaccination deployment with national plans, international standards and World Bank requirements in order to ensure safe handling of the vaccines, as well as fair and equitable access to all”.

It will monitor vaccine storage, transport, registration and inoculations, Rana Cassou, a regional spokeswoman for the federation, told The National.

She said it would also check that vaccination centres followed safety protocols and followed up to ensure people received their second doses of the vaccines.

“We had more than 20 monitors across 13 centres today, from the north to the south,” Ms Cassou said.

She said they were all on duty to ensure a smooth second day of vaccinations.

Lebanon started the national campaign with 28,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that were delivered the previous day.

The first person to be vaccinated was Lebanese actor Salah Tizany, 93.

Frontline healthcare workers and the elderly are in the priority group for inoculations, as given in the World Health Organisation’s standards.

Hussein Khachfe, a fourth-year medical student at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, described the vaccine as a “breather” after having been exposed to the virus on a daily basis while on wards.

He received his first dose on Monday and is excited for the day his family can receive the same protection.

But, like many, Mr Khachfe said he feared the state’s handling of the campaign.

"I have serious concerns about how the state will distribute the vaccine," he told The National.

“I’m worried about misallocation and nepotism in the process.”

Lebanon’s ruling class has long been implicated in corruption, which ignited nationwide protests on October 17, 2019.

Years of mismanagement and misconduct made way for Lebanon’s worst economic crisis, exacerbated by the devastating Beirut blast and the current pandemic.