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Lebanon: Fury as health minister says reports of medicine shortages are 'rumours'

The statement provoked a backlash online, as many Lebanese are now forced to ask for medicine from people abroad
An expat packs a suitcase with medicine and vital supplies before travelling to Lebanon (AFP)

Lebanon’s minister of health, Hamad Hassan, has sparked outrage after stating that reports of medicine shortages in the country are rumours, and that the media and public are exaggerating the economic crisis in the country. 

On Wednesday, one Twitter user asked Hassan to address the medicine shortages in Lebanon. Hassan responded: “Do not listen to the rumours from some media outlets. I don’t blame them. They’re clever at directing and sharing things, it’s their job,” he said in the tweet. 

Online, many have criticised the minister for downplaying the severity of the situation in the country, and for suggesting that medicine shortages are not a widespread problem.

One social media user responded, stating that many Lebanese citizens have resorted to requesting medicine from people abroad, as pharmacies have struggled to import medication and prices have skyrocketed. 

Many people have claimed the minister is in denial, and have called on him to delete the tweet.

Translation: The media!! When I speak to my family they tell me they can’t find any medication, for high blood pressure, diabetes, not even Panadol. The mother is not making this up, neither are the children. You are rude and you have no conscience. 

Some have called on the minister to resign following his tweet.

“What planet are you living on?” another social media user wrote. 

Translation: Pharmacies have closed because they’re almost empty, and the ones that are open are operating on the black market 

Lebanon's currency has lost over 90 percent of its value since October 2019, leaving many people unable to afford basic necessities, hitting industry and devastating all sectors of the economy. The worsening situation has caused mounting frustration on the streets. 

Lebanon is facing growing shortages of some essential goods, as it runs out of cash to maintain an expensive subsidies programme for wheat, fuel, some food items and medicine. In recent weeks, hundreds of cars have been queueing up at petrol stations, as drivers hope to fill their tanks with increasingly rationed fuel. 

The economic crisis has also had a far-reaching impact on medication, with many pharmacies going on strike as they struggle to import medicines.

For those relying on medication for mental health conditions, the shortages have had severe impacts on their wellbeing. 

Many people have struggled to obtain essentials such as baby formula or sanitary towels. The cost of menstrual products has risen by almost 500% since the start of the financial crisis.

Translation: Let’s put the media aside, the bitter truth that you can’t seem to comprehend is that many people are struggling, and this is documented both on audio and video. Many people are trying to help their families obtain medication - these people are better than the best minister in this country. And you think people are going to believe you? 

Translation: The biggest failure and liar in the entire galaxy 

Earlier this month, Lebanon’s health ministry said it would investigate the death of a baby girl, after her family said they were not able to access proper hospital treatment amid severe shortages. 

Jouri al-Sayyid, who was 10 months old, died earlier this month in the village of Mazboud, southeast of Beirut, following three days of suffering from a high fever that caused inflammation of her lungs. 

Electricity shortages in the country have caused disruptions at medical centres, while some hospitals have stopped carrying out elective procedures and chosen instead to perform emergency operations only, due to the lack of medical supplies. 

The strain on hospitals comes as the country is also grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.