Lebanon’s hospitals are facing a cash crisis that could leave doctors without key medical supplies as early as next week, as a result of the country’s economic woes and the global coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by Arab News.
Oxygen gas suppliers will reportedly be demanding payment in cash dollars on delivery, which are notably scarce in the country, from Monday. Hospitals meanwhile, are already struggling to import nitrous oxide, used to make anaesthetic gas, because the item does not fall under Central Bank subsidies.
Under a Central Bank initiative, payments for medical supplies are subsidised at 85 per cent. This means hospitals can exchange 85 per cent of the import cost from the local currency – the Lebanese lira, or pound – to the US dollar at the pegged rate of 1,507.5 lira to $1 at the banks. The remaining 15 per cent must be exchanged or bought on the parallel market at the going rate.
The high demand and low supply of dollars in Lebanon, however, compounded by the rapidly increasing price of medical supplies as a result of inflation, has already squeezed hospitals to breaking point.
Now, Arab News has reported the President of the Syndicate of Hospitals in Lebanon, Dr Sleiman Haroun, claiming that without supplies of oxygen and nitrous oxide, performing operations would be impossible.
Problems of cash scarcity in Lebanon’s health care sector, however, run deeper. The Arab News report claims the country’s Central Bank has delayed transfers of money to importers, slowing the process.
Meanwhile, the report quoted Haroun as saying: “Government payments of dues to private hospitals are not done regularly, including dues in Lebanese pounds from the Ministry of Health, the National Social Security Fund and military health funds… Government payments are even less than what we must pay to importers of medical supplies, and these payments are based on the official exchange rate.”
Lebanon’s government owes hospitals nearly $1.3 billion in subsidies – a sum which has been rising since 2011 – but payments are slow and rarely forthcoming. Several times since Prime Minister Hassan Diab took office in late January, the government has promised to pay off these debts in full, but the money has not materialised, leaving hospitals severely underfunded.
According to Arab News, Haroun said: “There are 136 private hospitals in Lebanon and now they have stopped receiving new cases unless they are emergency cases subsidized by the Central Bank of Lebanon.”
The syndicate president also said he feared a brain drain of Lebanon’s best doctors and nurses if the hospital crisis continues.