Beirut, September 7 - Lamia* was due to deliver her child when her PCR test results came in. They were positive.
“I feared for my baby’s life,” she said, realizing that only government-designated COVID-19 hospitals with the necessary equipment and specialized staff would admit her.
Lamia, 27, resides in North Lebanon with her husband and their four children. The family’s situation is deteriorating, much like that of hundreds of thousands of other families living in Lebanon, as the country reels from a severe financial and economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening social stability and increasingly driving Lebanese and refugees deeper into poverty.
The pandemic has also further strained Lebanon’s overstretched public health care system, casting doubt on the country’s ability to provide crucial medical support to all those affected by the coronavirus.
“I was afraid there would be no beds available. I was scared I would lose my baby,” Lamia thought before heading to the Tripoli Government Hospital (TGH).
But she was admitted without delay and spent two weeks to receive the necessary COVID-19 treatment.
She gave birth to a beautiful little girl, Aya*, while in the hospital. After spending a couple days in the incubator, the baby is currently doing well.
“Aya is now in great health - And so am I!” the proud mother said happily.
Since the onset of the pandemic, increasing the capacity of the national health system to treat COVID cases from all populations in Lebanon has become crucial. With financial assistance from the European Union, UNHCR has provided additional bed capacity, including Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, to six government hospitals treating a high number of COVID-19 cases across the country, including TGH. This made it possible for COVID-19 patients, like Lamia, to access the vital care they need.
“At a time where we are witnessing record numbers of new cases, this support from the EU through UNHCR is much needed, and will allow us to expand our bed capacity and serve a larger population," said Doctor Firas Abiad, Director of the Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Beirut, another medical facility which was supported with rehabilitation and expansion works.
The RHUH, which was already overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases, was further stretched following the deadly Beirut port explosions on 4 August, which heavily damaged other hospitals in the area. The additional bed capacity that was provided contributed to freeing up space in the hospital for other interventions, making it possible to cater for the victims of the Beirut blast while still caring for COVID patients.
EU assistance has covered a total of 550 additional beds and 69 additional ICU beds countrywide, including ventilators and other advanced equipment, as well as medicine stocks. Not only will this ensure availability of spaces and materials to treat those in need of hospital care during the pandemic, it will also bolster the national system’s capacity to treat further patients and save more lives long after COVID-19, as all provided equipment will remain the property of the hospitals.
The expansion will also make it possible for all populations – Lebanese, refugees and migrants – to have access to life-saving assistance when need arises.
While the EU and UNHCR work towards increasing hospital capacity nationwide, dedicated and skilled medical staff work around the clock to provide a high level of care for anyone in need of treatment.
“Our nurses have been working tirelessly and under high pressure for the past six months, sometimes in double shifts,” said Ms. Wahida Ghalayini, Head of the Nursing Department at RHUH.
“Luckily, the infection rate among our staff has been very low due to high working standards and well-trained medical personnel,” she added.
The EU is in the process of increasing its support to the COVID-19 response through UNHCR in order to address additional, critical needs at a time of crisis when such assistance is needed most.
* Names were changed for confidentiality and protection purposes