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Elaf from Beirut: Health crises and the loss of basic foodstuffs in Lebanon are besieging government attempts not to extend the crisis, the latest of which was the beginning of the loss of infant formula from the market, and the severe shortage of medical supplies, which threatens the dialysis service in hospitals, starting next week, according to Asharq Al-Awsat. .
These new crises are added to the decline in the stock of subsidized food commodities in the Lebanese market, with the Central Bank of Lebanon, which provides hard currency for its import, stopped paying the bills of importers of subsidized medical and food items about three months ago, although some commodities that received the approval of the Bank of Lebanon Before importing it, a large part of it was sold at the subsidized price, which accumulated the amounts owed by the Central Bank to importers of these vital materials, amounting to nearly $100 million, according to what the head of the Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon Hani Bohsali told Asharq Al-Awsat. .
The Banque du Liban provides hard currency to import basic materials such as fuel, flour, medicines, medical supplies and infant formula, in addition to basic foodstuffs. The items on the list of subsidies have decreased over the past weeks, in light of the scarcity of hard currency in the central bank’s reserves. The Central Bank supports medicines at the exchange rate of 1515 pounds (the exchange rate on the black market exceeds 14,500 pounds per dollar), which means that it supports 85 percent of its real price. It also provides food subsidies at a price of 3900 pounds to the dollar, which means that it subsidizes up to 70 percent of its price abroad.
After the loss of medicines from pharmacies and hospitals raising warnings about the decline in their stock of medical supplies, the Private Hospitals Syndicate announced yesterday (Thursday) that “hospitals suffer from an acute shortage of dialysis supplies, which threatens to stop this service as of next week in the event that supplies are not delivered to hospitals within This week.” In a statement, she said, “Hospitals in general suffer from a severe shortage of reagents and supplies necessary for conducting laboratory tests and diagnosing diseases, which made many of them stop conducting these tests for the patients they go to, and were forced to reduce the number of patients admitted to hospitals due to the aforementioned shortage.”
The Syndicate explained that “the aforementioned shortage is due to the dispute between the importers of these medical supplies and the Banque du Liban about subsidizing their purchase by 85 percent at the official exchange rate of the dollar” (1515 L.L).
In this context, the hospitals announced that if the support for these supplies stops, the suppliers will sell them to the hospitals at the dollar exchange rate in the parallel market. This means that the tariff for these services will increase exponentially, and that the beneficiary patient will have to bear the differences in those prices, which will threaten the health security of citizens, as not everyone can incur these additional expenses.
In addition to medical supplies, a baby milk crisis is looming, with subsidies unavailable in the market. Activists talked about the increase in the price of a carton of milk to more than two hundred thousand Lebanese pounds ($14 according to the black market exchange rate), which is equivalent to a third of the minimum wage.
The infant formula is divided into four categories: the first and second (from the age of one day to a year), which are supported by the Ministry of Public Health, such as medicines, at an exchange rate of 1515 pounds to the dollar. As for its sale, it is limited to pharmacies according to the law, and it must obtain the approval of the Ministry of Health, like medicines, and it is sold at a subsidized price of 85 percent of its price abroad. As for the third category (from one to three years old), it is included in the subsidized food basket at an exchange rate of 3900 Syrian pounds.
Ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the first and second categories are “subject to negotiations between the Ministry of Health and the Banque du Liban to solve this problem, like the problem of other medicines,” pointing out that the importing companies threatened to import the third category milk to be available in the market without support, after it was delayed. The Banque du Liban has to pay what it owes to importers of subsidized materials, which put companies in a deficit and started losing from the markets.
Bohsali said that the Central Bank “did not fulfill its obligations towards subsidized goods that obtained approval from him to import and sell them at the subsidized price, even though some of them arrived in Lebanon and were sold,” denying that there is any monopoly. He asked: “Goods are sold for one tenth of their price in the market, so how can importers be asked to sell goods without obtaining a difference in their price from the state?”
He said, “It is not possible to ask the merchant to bear the price difference, while the state must bear it,” pointing to negotiations between merchants and the Ministry of Health to reach a solution and pay the state’s dues in favor of the merchants. He said: “Merchants have two options, either the Bank of Lebanon pays the dues owed to the merchants, old and new, or the goods are distributed at the market exchange rate,” which means that their prices will increase by 85 percent for the citizen, in the event that the price of goods is liberalized to prevent their loss in The market and the development of a price control mechanism, bearing in mind that negotiations have not yet reached a settlement between the ministries and the Central Bank.
The support proceeds according to a mechanism represented in submitting medicine to the Banque du Liban, which prevents approval, followed by approval from the concerned ministry (the health or economy, which places the subsidized food basket), and after the arrival of the goods, approval for their distribution is obtained from the Banque du Liban.
This aspect is added to attempts to solve the congestion crisis at gas stations, as importers demand the import of gasoline of 98 octane that is not subject to government support, meaning that it is sold at a price comparable to the exchange rate of the dollar on the black market, according to what ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. She explained that according to this, “the citizen has the option of filling his car tank with subsidized fuel of 95 octane according to the subsidized price, or filling it with 98 octane that is released from official subsidies,” knowing that the congestion is usually on subsidized gasoline.
In addition, the “White Shirts” organization organized a sit-in, this morning (Friday), in front of the Lebanese Ministry of Health building in the Baabd district, to demand rationalization of drug support and fairness to the health sector, and it sent an urgent appeal to the World Health Organization, to intervene directly to take over the affairs .
The “White Shirts” organization, which includes an alliance of doctors, pharmacists, dentists, nurses and laboratory workers, organized a sit-in, this morning, in the inner courtyard of the Ministry of Health building, according to what was reported by the German News Agency.
The protesters carried banners that read, “From the harbor crime to the crime of cutting medicine.”
The protesters called for “rationalization of drug support and fairness in the health sector.” They pointed out that “random support does not provide medicine to the citizen, but rather secures it for smuggling mafias.” They asked about the control of smuggled medicines.
According to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hadi Murad, on behalf of the protesters, made an urgent appeal to the World Health Organization, asking it to “intervene directly to take over the affairs and strike with an iron hand.” He appealed to it to send a “fact-finding committee” to Lebanon to investigate and prevent the increasing destruction that cannot be stopped by the failed state, but through cooperation with the Lebanese army, the Red Cross, private medical centers and university hospitals.
He added: “Lebanon is facing an unprecedented crisis in the healthcare sector that threatens the lives of all Lebanese alike. In light of the continuous corruption of the ruling class that infringes the rights of citizens and is backed by a corrupt system that protects them well with impunity, we now find ourselves in the midst of a failed and bankrupt state.
He continued: “We will not accept that the authority kills us again after its criminality and the killing of hundreds of Lebanese in the August 4 bombing. This is a very urgent issue that requires immediate intervention from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank on humanitarian grounds to save the people of Lebanon.”
It is noteworthy that Lebanon is witnessing a severe economic and financial crisis that led to a rise in the dollar exchange rate and a decline in the purchasing power of citizens, in addition to a decline in the ability of the Bank of Lebanon to meet the government’s decision to support medicines and basic materials listed on the support regulations, which led to a decrease in the stock of medicines and infant formula in pharmacies and the loss of some The stock of medical supplies in hospitals has decreased, and the subsidized food is not available.