Lebanon appears first on the Google search engine as one of the countries suffering from drug shortages. Although challenges can be noticed in various countries, they usually come up with strategies to fill the gaps. However, Lebanon is now going through several crises that seem like a horror movie for many people. These include drug shortages, deterioration of the health sector, hospital crisis, cancer patients with no medication, etc…
Do patients really die on the streets? Is a child suffering from asthma really at risk of dying due to a lack of access to oxygen? Does the patient really go from one city to another, crossing thousands of kilometers to buy a pill? Just one pill? No this is not a movie, these are the facts on the ground in Lebanon.
According to medical sources, about 10% of cancer patients have not had access to their medication over the past two months. The same situation applies to the treatment of other patients in the country. The Lebanese social media platforms have become a means to search for medicine in a country where factions fight to outdo each other in humiliating citizens, threatening their health and the security of their livelihood.
Show Raids, Ongoing Drug Shortage
Cartels that monopolize medicines for dealers who are backed by the ruling parties are all over Lebanon. Meanwhile, many citizens are dying for a lack of access to their treatment. Documented raids are garnering enough media hype and applause, while the country still suffers from drug shortages. Despite the recent raids and investigations, one question remains: Why is the Lebanese citizen still deprived of medicine until now?
Most of the Lebanese social media platforms include successive campaigns demanding access to drugs. While foreign-funded associations have shown that they participate in supporting patients, most of the Lebanese people do not trust their local administrations and believe that many of these associations are complicit in the ruling parties’ corrupt system.
In the meantime, and amid the chaos the country is going through, some of the internet funding accounts may take advantage of the circumstances to launch fraudulent campaigns to collect money from donors for profitable commercial purposes. Therefore, Majalla conducted a thorough search of some of the social media pages to highlight the few reliable sources that volunteer to provide medicine and treatment to the patients.
Testimonials from patients who suffer
Laila is the mother of an eight-year-old child who suffers from leukemia and is in the last stages of his treatment. She and her family fear they won’t be able to provide medical care for their child, despite the recent progress in therapy. Some hospitals ask their patients to secure their medicines in a country where all of the means of earning a decent living have been lost. We can only imagine a child dying because he has the misfortune to be living in a country ruled by avaricious politicians.
Sultan, 28, suffers from bone cancer and cannot walk normally. He needs surgery but although he can afford the cost of surgery, the deterioration of the health sector has ruled out this possibility. He was expected to undergo surgery in August, but the hospital postponed it due to the crisis and a lack of medical equipment.
Sultan told Majalla he was shocked when he knew about the hospital’s decision to delay the procedure. “As you can see, I use crutches to walk, but this is tiring. I have been longing to undergo the operation to walk again normally, but I wake up every day to painful news of the hospital’s inability to conduct the operation due to the lack of equipment,” he explained.
Jawad, 50, is a taxi driver who suffers from heart disease and diabetes and needs medication on a daily basis. “I was terrified when I heard the news about the drug shortage in the country,” he told Majalla. “How can I protect myself from clots and other symptoms without taking my medication? I don’t have relatives who live abroad to secure my medicines, and seeing the pharmacies closed is enough to cause great concern.” He stressed that this crisis has resulted in a medical condition that required his admission to the hospital. “Is it possible for our country to let us die slowly every day?” he asked, wondering why no government has been formed so far.
Humanitarian Campaigns Play Govt’s Role to Protect Patients
In light of the severe crises, several Lebanese female activists played a major role and volunteered to secure drugs for suffering patients. They coordinated with the Lebanese at home and the expatriates, as well as with neighboring Arab citizens, making it a priority to recruit passengers traveling on flights to Lebanon to bring suitcases of medicine with them.
After years of hard work in the humanitarian field with the aim of supporting families in need, these activists currently dedicate their time and efforts to support patients and secure medicines.
The women who launched the campaigns listed below do not belong to any party and have no political background. They make sure the bills are paid and recorded to secure treatment for patients from different sects.
Majalla interviewed these Lebanese activists who explained their methods and pointed to the obstacles they face.
Joyce Abou Zeidan (Kaffak-Bi-Kaffi)
The“Kafak-Bi-Kaffi” (Hand in Hand) humanitarian aid campaign was launched following the October 17, 2019 revolution in Lebanon. Back then, a Lebanese family asked the activist for help to secure medicine for a family member who had been deprived of it for two months.
Abou Zeidan narrates how a media campaign was launched afterward to continue helping the needy.
She pointed out that citizens used to ask her to pay their house rent, school fees or provide food aid. However, now they only ask for medicines, and some travel long distances to get just one pill, which has become a dream due to the black market monopolization. The drugs people need to treat cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure can only be bought from the black market, she noted.
The campaign receives donations from the Lebanese expatriates, as well as citizens from the Arab world, including the Gulf region, topped by Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Many American, French, and Italian citizens also send donations after hearing about the campaign’s activities from the Lebanese people there.
Abou Zeidan shed light on the great support she receives from Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. “Arab states have never let Lebanon down and have been supportive to the Lebanese in all the crises,” she said. The activist further warned people from sending donations to the wrong source.
“Many associations received huge funds to secure medicines and aid, especially after the Beirut blast, but unfortunately nothing was delivered to the relevant authorities or the people in need,” stressed the campaigner who is involved in following up the work of campaigns and associations in Lebanon.
She searches for medicines in pharmacies across Lebanon and relies on her personal Twitter account to benefit from any ties between other tweeters and owners of pharmaceutical companies. She has recently launched an appeal to secure cancer drugs, given their high black market prices. These drugs could only be purchased with hard currency, leaving dozens of patients without treatment.
Commenting on whether she receives aid from the ruling parties, Abou Zeidan said she refuses to accept any help from the officials since they are the reason behind the current situation in the country. “All the officials offered to help provided that I mention it on the media, but I refused to cooperate with them,” she added.
Soad Elias Gharios (Nihna Wahad Campaign)
“Nihna Wahad” (We are One) campaign was launched in 2015 before the outbreak of the economic crises in Lebanon. It is aimed at organizing environmental and social activities. However, in light of the drug crisis in the country, it has become involved in providing medication for patients, especially for the poor.
In an interview with Majalla, the campaign founder, Soad Elias Gharios, said there is no actual shortage of medicine in Lebanon, but rather their distribution is monopolized by mafias and merchants.
Gharios affirmed that everything needs an intermediary in Lebanon, even inside pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, activists work on securing the medicines by coordinating with pharmacies in the country and abroad, she explained, adding that her Twitter account serves as a means to publish her message and announce cases that require aid, especially those who need treatment.
The campaign also relies on foreign donors, especially from Switzerland and France, from which funds and drugs are received. (13 medicines are sent from Switzerland and 18 medicines from France)
According to Gharios, the most requested medicines are for chronic diseases such as blood pressure, diabetes, liver diseases, stomach diseases, bone diseases, and also for coronavirus treatment.
When asked about the campaign’s methods, Gharios said she requests the prescription from the patient and then intensifies her calls abroad to secure the medicine or visits various pharmacies to check whether it is available. She also visits the homes of the sick or needy to provide as much aid as possible.
Commenting on the absence of an active role from the Ministry of Social Affairs, she said it has not played its role for years, especially in terms of caring for people with special needs. “It does not provide for them the necessary medical equipment or treatment,” she stressed. Gharios urged the Minister of Social Affairs to conduct a comprehensive survey and sort out those who actually need the aid and those who are beneficiaries due to their political connections.
According to the activist, the medicine crisis started two years ago when the market saw a hike in drug prices. Lebanese citizens also played a role in the lead-up to this crisis by storing medicines. “The Lebanese people’s homes have turned into pharmacies after fearing they could lose these drugs later.”
Gharios also pointed to how hospitals are addressing the crisis and to people’s great suffering. “Even after obtaining the approval of the Health Ministry for the patient’s admission and after securing the amount needed from the donors, some hospitals ask patients to bring their medicines under the pretext of the crisis,” she said.
Gharios further outlined the active role played by Arab citizens and their donations. She said many packages of medicine are received from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries, and expressed appreciation for their efforts. She also pointed to regular Saudi donors, whom she considers to be the greatest supporters.
Paulina Keiro (Wajaa’k Wajaai)
The campaign, dubbed “Wajaa’k Wajaai” (Your Pain is my Pain), was launched by an expatriate who is a member of the Syndicate of Professional Artists in Lebanon. Paulina Keiro is a cancer patient who is receiving treatment in France. She told Majalla that her campaign was started during the October 2019 revolution and then became active after the Beirut blast and during the outbreak of the medical crisis.
Keiro buys the drugs from France and sends them to the needy for free but sells them to those who can afford to pay their prices. She sends many drugs to Lebanese passengers when they agree to take a bag of medicines with a capacity of 23 kilos.
Last year, she faced many obstacles in the process, but Lebanese General Security facilitated the transportation mechanism after ensuring that her goal is humanitarian and not profit-making.
The Lebanese heading to their homeland from Paris now call Keiro to deliver the parcels of drugs. She also sends her children regularly to Lebanon to deliver drugs to the patients while she receives funds from expatriates. Her acquaintances and friends working in pharmaceutical companies help her secure the necessary medicines either free or at the previously subsidized price.
Keiro hailed the role played by the expatriates and the campaigns supporting patients in Lebanon while the government “lies” and the associations “show off.”
What if the drug-securing campaigns had not been active in Lebanon? What does a patient who is not affiliated with any of the ruling parties do? While some parties defy brotherly Arab countries and isolate Lebanon from its neighboring countries, Lebanese activists highlight these countries’ support for citizens. Where is the ruling party taking Lebanon with its hostility in light of decades-long corruption?