Journalism and health

10. Eliott Brachet, the Lebanese health system /

As we all know, Lebanon is facing an acute economic crisis ongoing for many years, which has escalated in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic and after the Beirut port blast which has left 300,000 people homeless.

We met with Elliot Brachet, journalist in the RFI international department, who has expressed concern, since March 2020, over the strain on the Lebanese healthcare system.

Eliott Brachet – Journalist – Liban

In my sense, an international department is a kind of observatory that monitors the international news, and can, at any time, dispatch journalists onsite to gather information, provide testimonials and perform reporting.

His investigation into how Covid-19 arrived in Lebanon revealed a health system on the brink of collapse.

Eliott Brachet – Journalist – Liban

There were several stages, the first one was the total curfew in the country, a nationwide lockdown. The country closed its borders. It was rather a stage of extensive measures taken out of fear. The fear of the outbreak reaching its peak and overwhelming the healthcare facilities.

We cannot overlook the fact that Lebanon was already going through a major economic crisis for several months, the most unprecedented in its history, coupled with a political and social crisis, a succession of governments and massive demonstrations.

The country can no longer repay its foreign debts, it imports all its medical equipment: medicines, respiratory devices for hospitals. Very quickly, the situation worsened. The number of infected cases increased slightly, the Lebanese returned from abroad.

A hospital system further destabilized after the Beirut port blast, 4 August 2020.  

Eliott Brachet – Journalist – Liban

Four hospitals were scheduled to shut down, they were shattered by the blast. The intensive care units were not filled up with COVID cases, but with patients in an extreme emergency situation due to the explosion.

Some hospitals were closing, out of which Saint George Hospital which was pretty much on the front line. It used to receive 20% of the patients hospitalised with COVID.

The main hospital, Rafic Hariri, which was on the front line at the beginning of the epidemic, has currently 34 in-patients in intensive care and only 29 beds. It is likely that hospitals will be saturated.

This is already the case today. Some patients are being denied intensive care or ventilation service, and are kept in the emergency room because the available ventilators or beds are not sufficient.

Eliott Brachet says the Lebanese health system’s future is closely linked to the country’s economic situation.

Eliott Brachet – Journaliste – Liban

There is a great concern, which is first of all… that hospitals will no longer be able to pay their staff, who are exhausted, and who sometimes didn’t get paid for many months. Because of the economic crisis, hospitals are paying in Lebanese Pounds, a currency that is devaluating. The staff is likely to be totally overwhelmed, and the system might reach maximum capacity.

If the economic situation does not improve, hospitals, which are already facing a drugs and medical supplies shortage, will probably fail to respond correctly, and will end up with more COVID cases but fewer resources, which will definitely worsen the situation.

Beyond sanitary conditions, Lebanon must now face major economic and political challenges.

Eliott Brachet – Journaliste – Liban

There is one interesting fact today in Lebanon, it’s the refugees’ situation. So far, they have been rather spared, but there are tens of refugee camps in Lebanon, filled up, by thousands, with an overcrowded community, especially Syrians, alongside many Palestinian camps on the Lebanese territory.

There is a serious fear that if Coronavirus reaches these camps, the number of cases would skyrocket.

Today, the current economic situation is appalling. There is an acute inflation and prices soar every day. Almost all products in Lebanon are imported, so everyday life is becoming very challenging. Even during the lockdown, we saw hunger protests on the streets. I heard taxi drivers and street vendors say that their main concern was not COVID but more the economic crisis.

Lockdown has forced journalists from international news services to investigate remotely.

Eliott Brachet – Journaliste – Liban

Back when I lived in Lebanon, in Tripoli, I had some contacts, with whom I spoke every day during the crisis: For instance, nurses, stretcher-bearers, directors of departments, or directors of hospitals, with whom I discussed and followed up on the situation.

I used to cross-check their testimonials with official figures published by the government and made accessible to everyone.

I also looked at some research groups, as they publish open data.

I think one should really diversify his sources, because even on Facebook, I saw community campaigns by Franco-Lebanese who collected funds to ship medicines from France to Lebanon. These are also interesting initiatives.

While investigating, Eliott Brachet spent hours in hospital corridors recording his observations.

Eliott Brachet – Journaliste – Liban

I often realise during a radio show, that when I leave the mike open – of course with the consent of the interviewee – their words flow better … and when the person thinks the interview is over, and I think I had asked the last question, in the minutes following the formal discussion the person suddenly opens up and gives a better version of what she had said during the interview.

The person will act more natural, and will give away more information. Moral of the story: Do not stick to a certain timing, take your time when meeting people and talking to them. This is my advice.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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