Admissions to Lebanon’s cardiac care unit doubled in late October as the country struggles from shortages of medicine, an economic crisis, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Key medicines have been in short supply as people rushed to stockpile them following reports that the Central Bank of Lebanon planned to lift subsidies on medicines because it no longer has enough foreign exchange reserves to maintain its import subsidy scheme.
Patients have subsequently found themselves at risk as they are unable to access potentially life-saving treatments.
Admissions to the Cardiac Care Unit at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) have doubled recently, tweeted the hospital’s CEO Firass Abiad, who said patients with heart failure have been unable to find needed medications including Furosemide, an inexpensive diuretic.
Heart patients suffer from loss of medicine access
In recent weeks, heart patients have reported increasing concerns related to ongoing shortages of the two types of cardiovascular medicines. One of them is a medicine manufactured locally with a license from a French laboratory, the other a multivitamin specially formulated to help lower cholesterol levels for a healthy heart.
“Heart patients in Lebanon are at the front line of this issue and are complaining of the loss of two types of medicines,” Nabil Shasha, Head of Cardiology Divison at RHUH told Al Arabiya English.
“Some of these medications are very crucial in a sense that stopping any of them for few days could subject patients to a wide range of complications that could jeopardize their lives,” he explained. adding that patients with coronary artery disease might sustain acute myocardial infarction or cardiac death if they fail to take anti-platelets.
“Lack of diuretic drugs that excrete fluids through the kidneys and increase urine output. If not taken, the patient’s body starts accumulating fluids leading to volume overload causing lung congestion and shortness of breath and ankle and leg swelling.” Hadi Skouri, Cardiologist at AUBMC told Al Arabiya English.
“The patient starts to feel short of breath at rest and with time it progresses to shortness of breath at rest their oxygen levels start to be reduced and he will be admitted to the emergency room and hospital admission to receive intravenous diuretics,” he added.
Drug companies rationing medicines
Pharmaceutical companies in Lebanon have been rationing the distribution of drugs among pharmacies after Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said subsidies would have to stop once the threshold for obligatory foreign exchange reserves was reached, without suggesting a timeframe.
According to a Lebanese official quoted by Reuters in early October, the country has only around $1.8 billion of its foreign exchange reserves remaining available for subsidizing key food and other imports.
The official source added to Reuters that these reserves could be made to last for about six months if support for some goods was scrapped.
Central Bank Governor Salameh has previously told Reuters in August that the central bank’s foreign currency reserves stood at $19.5 billion, of which $17.5 billion were obligatory reserves.
Lebanon now has about $1.8 billion of its foreign exchange reserves left available for subsidizing key food and other imports but could make this last for about six more months by scrapping support for some goods according to an official source who told Reuters.
Consequently, medicine shortages have been spurred by the looming end causing people to panic buy in anticipation of the price increase and stock depletion.
“This will dramatically overwhelm the country’s health system, already exhausted by the increase in the number of COVID-19 infection and by the limited number of critical care beds already taken up by COVID-19 cases,” Shasha told Al Arabiya English
“We hope that the different parties in charge of medications available in the country would appreciate this fact and work on procuring them on a priority basis by expecting more hospital admissions means we are expecting more financial burden on the government and the patients and their caregivers as well as third party payers and this may lead to bankruptcy at all levels,” Skouri told Al Arabiya English.