The World Bank allocated $40 million to the coronavirus response efforts in Lebanon, according to a press release from the organization Thursday.
The funds will be re-allocated from the current Health Resilience Project, a $120 million project designed to strengthen the Ministry of Public Health’s ability and capacity to respond to crises.
“This outbreak comes at a time when Lebanon’s economy is already going through the worst economic crisis in recent history and the Government of Lebanon has limited resources to respond,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director in the press release. “The World Bank stands ready to support Lebanon’s efforts to contain the rapid spread of the virus and help the Lebanese people in these particularly challenging times.”
The $40 million will support the Lebanese government with “surveillance and case detection, case management protection of health workers, and multisectoral response to support multisectoral activities,” according to the World Bank’s statement.
The health care system in the country is in disarray from years of mismanagement with the government owing private facilities an estimated $1.3 billion in unpaid dues – used to pay staff and purchase medical supplies – since 2011.
Since October 2019, when a liquidity crisis began to be felt in Lebanon, importers of medical supplies, and other goods, have struggled to secure enough dollars to pay for their imports.
In early March, doctors at the hospital where coronavirus patients have been treated announced they would go on strike.
“Because of the dangers, hardships, and harsh conditions under which hospital staff suffer, and the indifference that has become evident by management and stakeholders, the decision was taken…. to go on strike,” a statement from March 11 from the committee of employees, contractors, and procedures at the hospital read.
The World Bank statement emphasized concerns that coronavirus will particularly hit the poor and refuge populations in the country.
Many in Lebanon are employed in the informal sector and rely on daily wages to make ends meet. Those workers, such as cab drivers and fruit and vegetable vendors, stand to be hit especially hard by the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Lebanon also hosts around 1 million Syrian refugees, according to official tallies, some of whom live in cramped informal settlements. Refugees often lack access to healthcare and social distancing measures, like those recommended by the World Health Organization, are difficult or impossible to practice while living in tented communities.
Lebanon is currently on lockdown as authorities attempt to slow the spread of the virus. However, the past few days have seen some defy lockdown orders to protest worsening economic conditions in the country, which have been steadily deteriorating since October. Now, coronavirus has exacerbated an already tough situation. As of Friday, there have been 16 reported coronavirus deaths in Lebanon and 494 cases.