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“Hospitals in Gaza were better prepared than [those in Lebanon] to face the possibility of war with Israel,” laments a medical official, deploring a shortage of equipment, personnel, but also fuel and oxygen.

Hospitals in Lebanon would not last two days

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Barbed wire and military vehicles surround one of the facades of the Saida government hospital, located near a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

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SAIDA, Lebanon – In this rainy day in March, the waiting room at the government hospital in Saida, South Lebanon, is practically empty. In the corridors, three caregivers are talking among themselves. Another pushes a patient in a wheelchair.

At the end of one of these corridors is the office of Dr. Hilal Chaaban, medical manager of the hospital and orthopedic surgeon.

Dr Chaaban, who studied in France and worked for a few years in Paris before returning to his native country in 2008, minces no words: We are not prepared to face a full-scale war and we do not have the capacity to accommodate a large number of wounded.

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The empty corridors inside the government hospital in Saida, the third largest city in Lebanon. Since the start of the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip, on October 7, exchanges of fire are almost daily between the Israeli army and the Lebanese Hezbollah, an ally of Palestinian Hamas.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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The town of Saida, about sixty kilometers from the border, has so far been spared Israeli bombing, but a generator factory was completely destroyed on February 19 by a strike in Ghazieh, five kilometers away.

The medical head of the hospital in Saida, Lebanon's third largest city, assures that his establishment is preparing for the possibility of a wider conflict. But, he said, we still suffer from several shortages due to the serious economic crisis that has shaken the country for five years.

Shortage of equipment and personnel, but also of medicines, fuel, oxygen… The list of needs is long. Not to mention a glaring lack of specialist doctors, such as neurologists, for example.

According to Dr. Chaaban, there are only three vascular surgeons left who practice throughout South Lebanon, which has a population of more than 750,000 people.

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Dr. Hilal Chaaban, medical director of the government hospital in Saida, in the southern Lebanon.

Many doctors and caregivers have left the country since the start of the crisis, he explains.

Lebanon is going through one of the world's worst economic crises since 1850, according to the World Bank. The power vacuum, which has lasted for more than a year, further aggravates the situation, while the reforms, essential to obtain aid from the international community, are still pending.

In all honesty, in the event of war, I don't know how we will hold up. We risk experiencing a worse scenario than what we see in Gaza, because the hospitals in the Gaza Strip were better prepared than we were to face the possibility of war with Israel.

A quote by Dr. Hilal Chaaban, medical manager of the Saida government hospital

If the Al-Chifa hospital in Gaza was able to last 45 days while consuming around 10,000 liters of fuel oil per day. Here, we would not last two days in the event of war, laments Dr. Chaaban, affirming that the hospital does not have enough fuel reserves.

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The empty waiting room inside the Saida Government Hospital .

Hit hard by the economic crisis, hospitals in Lebanon are working day by day, he said. Even the largest hospitals in the country have reserves that can last up to a month in peacetime. But in times of war, needs will quadruple.

According to him, a new war with Israel would have more catastrophic consequences than those experienced by the Lebanon in July 2006, during the last Israeli offensive on the country. We only have to see what is happening in Gaza to see it, he believes.

The public hospital in Saïda has already had to close its doors several times this year.

Located a stone's throw from the camp of Palestinian refugees from Aïn el-Helweh, the largest refugee camp in Lebanon, it bears the brunt of the armed clashes which regularly break out there between rival Palestinian factions. The latest cycle of violence left seven dead last September.

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A poster showing the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) hangs on a wall in the public hospital in Saida, South Lebanon. This scale allows caregivers to determine the severity of a patient's state of health.

An official from the Lebanese Ministry of Health confirms to Radio -Canada that the country's public hospitals suffer from a severe lack of medical equipment.

Wahida Ghalayini, the coordinator of the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, also says there is a distinct lack of qualified doctors and caregivers across the country.

The Lebanese government, she assures, has put in place an emergency plan to enable hospitals to cope with the possibility of a large-scale war.< /p>

We organized a training day for around 3,000 doctors and nurses working in 125 hospitals across Lebanon, says Ghalayini. We encourage these hospitals to conduct simulation exercises […] in order to be ready for any eventuality.

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An Israeli airstrike fell on the villages of Mansouri and Majdelzoun near Lebanon's southern border on February 21, 2024.

We always keep the Gaza scenario in mind. Lebanon has already experienced an Israeli invasion [in 1982] as well as a war in 2006, but now we face a new scenario, that of Gaza.

A quote from Wahida Ghalayini, coordinator of the Public Health Emergency Operations Center in Lebanon

This is why we strive to ensure a psychological support to the staff of all hospitals because we risk having many victims, says Ms. Ghalayini. We also want to be ready for the treatment of severe burn victims, especially since not all hospitals are equipped with an emergency center for this type of care.

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An ambulance carrying victims of an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon on February 22.

To remedy the shortage of personnel, she indicates that the ministry has asked hospitals in each region in Lebanon to coordinate for the sharing of human resources.

If, for example, there is only one specialized surgeon in a given hospital in South Lebanon, all the wounded in the region who need him will be transferred to that hospital for treatment, she explains. . This will allow us to save time, especially since travel risks becoming complicated in the event of war.

As for the lack of equipment, Ms. Ghalayini assures that the government was able to provide trauma first aid kits to facilities in areas most at risk of being targeted.

We are trying to do everything to be ready in case the Gaza scenario occurs in Lebanon, she assures, while conceding that the means remain insufficient due to the economic crisis.

According to official data, more than 300 people, most of them Hezbollah fighters, have been killed in Lebanon by Israeli strikes since October. Nearly 100,000 people have also been displaced by the hostilities.

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