- December 3, 2021
“I take twelve medicines. Medicine for my heart, medicine for blood pressure, and medicine for my diabetes. I searched through all the pharmacies in the city and either they don’t have it, or the price is too high for me to afford.”
I sat with Talib on his porch on a scorching hot day in July in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon. It was a brutal week for the Lebanese people, as a national medication shortage was getting worse by the day. Just a few weeks before I interviewed Talib, the BBC reported that the medicine shortage situation would become catastrophic by the end of July, 2021 (BBC, 2021). With a sociopolitical collapse in the country and a total crumbled economic system, a medication shortage was just another thing on the growing list of resources that the average Lebanese person can no longer afford or access. As I discussed what was happening with Talib, it was clear that while he feared for his own health, a bigger sense of anxiety washed over him when he discussed a potential situation in which one of his children or grandchildren got sick and he would not be able to get them antibiotics or medication.
With so many overlapping crises occurring in the country, the reality of the medicinal shortage has been underreported and under-discussed. For context, because of the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, pharmaceutical importers in the country are heavily indebted to pharmaceutical companies abroad which ultimately led to a halt of drug imports in the country. With exuberant swaths of the population who have cardiovascular diseases including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and diabetes, a shortage in medication can mean life-threatening consequences to the thousands of people like Talib who take multiple medications to address complex illnesses (Zeidan et al., 2016).
Exasperating the medicine situation is the grim reality that two-thirds of the Lebanese population are now living in poverty due to the economic crisis (United Nations, 2021). Because of this, when medicine is sparsely available, the high costs make it unaffordable for many Lebanese to pay for it. In my conversation with Talib he described the decision of buying food versus buying life-saving medication for his heart. This is the reality for thousands who are making these insidious decisions daily (Chehayeb & Sewell, 2021). Many have begun to rely on visiting family members from abroad to bring long-term medication supplies with them (Belayachi, 2021). Others, like Talib, have spent their small and reduced salaries on trips to Syria—paying triple the cost for mediations there while also losing a day’s worth of fuel for their cars in the process. Not only is gas now limited and expensive in the country due to the fuel shortages—it is impossible for many to even get gas in the first place, often waiting six or more hours to fill their car tanks (Chehayeb, 2021).
“When I took my medicines, I was fine. Now I have to go to Syria [to get my medicine] and spend everything I have to live.” Talib’s words speak to a devastating humanitarian crisis that demands international support. For more than a year now, the Lebanese have been daily moving into more and more unlivable conditions. The medicine shortages should be a top priority in any international conversations directed towards supporting and alleviating the suffering of Lebanese people.
BBC. (2021, July 4). Lebanon faces “disastrous” medicine shortages. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57714304
Belayachi, D. (2021, July 30). To combat shortages, Lebanese expats bring home suitcases full of medication. The Observers – France 24. https://observers.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210730-lebanon-medicine-shortage-expats-bring-home-medication
Chehayeb, K. (2021, September 17). Lebanon: Government hikes petrol prices again to tackle shortages | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/17/lebanon-government-hikes-petrol-prices-again-to-tackle-shortages
Chehayeb, K., & Sewell, A. (2021, August 4). A year after the Beirut blast, subsidy cuts compound Lebanon’s desperation. The New Humanitarian. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2021/8/4/a-year-after-the-beirut-blast-subsidy-cuts-compound-lebanons-desperation
United Nations. (2021, September 3). Lebanon: Almost three-quarters of the population living in poverty. UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1099102
Zeidan, R. K., Farah, R., Chahine, M. N., Asmar, R., Hosseini, H., Salameh, P., & Pathak, A. (2016). Prevalence and correlates of coronary heart disease: First population-based study in Lebanon. Vascular Health and Risk Management, 12, 75–84. https://doi.org/10.2147/VHRM.S97252
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