The economic crisis in Lebanon, during which the pandemic worsened, has pushed more than 80% of the population into poverty, leading to high costs of living and decreased health care quality for mothers-to-be. Lebanon previously succeeded in reducing maternal deaths, but these rates have tripled over the last few years. Therefore, there is an urgent need to act to reduce maternal mortality rates in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese Order of Midwives, with support from the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), is leading an initiative to provide vulnerable mothers-to-be with door-to-door emergency health care.
Lebanon experienced an economic crisis followed by the pandemic and the Beirut port explosions that led to massive unemployment and poverty for families throughout the region. According to UNICEF, 84% of households did not have enough money to cover fundamental necessities in 2022 and 23% of children went to bed on an empty stomach.
Additionally, Lebanon’s insufficient supply of foreign currency meant the government could not secure essential medical supplies and resources. The government’s inability to pay debts owed to hospitals also impacted health care services. As a result, Lebanon could not provide critical maternal and child health care services.
The Health Impact
Amid several concurrent crises in Lebanon, a rapid assessment, which UNICEF conducted in March 2022, showed a “12.6[%]drop in maternal bed capacity, with the Bekaa and Baalbeck Hermel (BB) governorates the worst affected at 28.6[%], followed by Beirut and Mount Lebanon (BML) at more than 25[%].
Furthermore, hospitals’ availability of pediatric intensive care unit beds decreased by 12% and the availability of newborn intensive care unit beds dropped by 5.5%. The decreased capacities arose as a consequence of the massive exodus of health care workers between 2019 and 2021 due to the economic instability in the nation.
Lebanon’s economic crisis pushed 40% of doctors and 30% of midwives to leave the country from October 2019 to September 2021, significantly decreasing the health care system’s efficiency. As a result, the medical system became overburdened and hospitals had no choice but to deny some medical care.
In October 2021, UNICEF declared that the number of neonatal deaths among refugees in Lebanon increased from 65 in the first quarter of 2020 to 137 in the third quarter across four different provinces. Additionally, a third of the children did not have access to health care in October of the same year. Lastly, transportation costs rose from a lack of subsidies and high fuel costs, impacting the ability of low-income pregnant women to reach the health centers. Therefore, after progress in reducing maternal deaths to 13.7 in 2019, maternal deaths increased to 37 per 100,000 live births by 2021.
The Lebanese Order of Midwives and UNICEF
UNICEF began supporting the Lebanese Order of Midwives council in November 2022. The council sends midwives to aid in the deliveries of pregnant women in the most at-risk areas of the country. The midwives go door-to-door and serve as emergency aid for the women. The council has already hired 57 midwives and plans to employ 300 more local community-based midwives to travel throughout the country until 2025. The council will primarily target women who hesitate to reach out for maternal care and need the service to identify early complications. Additionally, UNICEF will pay the cost of hospital transportation for the women if a case becomes too complicated for the midwives.
The rise in maternal mortality rates in Lebanon represents a regression in the country’s health care progress. Nevertheless, by funding local initiatives, international humanitarian organizations serve as valuable partners for solving pressing global issues in the most impoverished communities.
– Andres Valencia