The recent economic crisis in Lebanon has led to a massive shortage of medical supplies and hospital capacity, worsening an already strained healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic is further intensifying the nation’s economic crash and incidents of supply shortages. However, relief programs are stepping in to help improve health conditions in Lebanon.

Causes and Contributing Economic Factors

Lebanon has held substantial debt since the country began accepting aid to recover from its 1975 civil war. On top of this, Syria and the surrounding region experienced turmoil in 2014 that significantly reduced the value of the Lebanese pound relative to the U.S. dollar. This process has been exacerbated by government mismanagement and the decreasing amount of money being sent in payment from the Lebanese diaspora. The country has now racked up debt equal to 170% of its gross domestic product.

As COVID-19 challenges the global economy, the situation is rapidly intensifying. The value of currency in Lebanon has decreased by 78% since October 2019. The main issue facing healthcare in Lebanon results from the country’s lack of U.S. dollars. Depositors are withdrawing their money from Lebanese banks due to fears of further inflation, bank restrictions on withdrawals to curb the crisis and decreased foreign investments as a result of Lebanon’s perceived instability. Since Lebanon imports four-fifths of its consumer goods and depends on U.S. dollars to facilitate these transactions, the country is now facing shortages in all sectors of the economy, including healthcare.

The Current Hospital Crisis and COVID-19

The Lebanese government cannot pay both private and public hospitals using funds like the National Social Security Fund due to its present debt and currency inflation. This financial setback jeopardizes hospitals’ capacities to provide essential surgeries or import medical supplies. Private hospitals make up 82% of all healthcare in Lebanon. The national government only paid private hospitals 40% of what they were meant to receive in 2019, and has yet to fulfill any of its regular payments this year.

Public hospitals have also received a fraction of their regular government aid in recent years. This lack of funding limits hospitals not only from purchasing critical supplies, but also from paying employees. Hospitals are being forced to delay salary payments and even to consider cutting salaries in half. Lebanese hospitals import 100% of their medical equipment and rely on U.S. dollars for these shipments, so the absence of U.S. dollars has created a supply shortage. Since September, the country has imported less than 10% of the supplies it needs.

The recent rise of COVID-19 has not only left hospitals unprepared to meet increased patient demand, but also places immense strain on healthcare in Lebanon as a whole. Hospitals lack appropriate protective gear like masks and gloves, ventilators and spare parts. Furthermore, without the money to pay their employees full salaries or hire new workers, hospitals are finding themselves understaffed amidst the surge of demand precipitated by the pandemic.

Solutions and Relief

Many organizations like the United Nations (UN) have offered aid to help improve healthcare in Lebanon. The Central Bank has also intervened, guaranteeing half of the money withdrawn for imports will be exchanged at the official rate, rather than the inflated rate, in an effort to help hospitals purchase supplies. In March, the World Bank also gave Lebanon a 39 million dollar loan to prepare public hospitals for COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN have committed to help Lebanon obtain medical supplies during the pandemic. The Chinese government also shipped medical supplies to Lebanon and pledged to continue providing relief.

Nonprofit groups are working on the ground to address the needs of healthcare workers in Lebanon. Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization that addresses poverty worldwide, delivered a shipment of N-95 masks, face shields, gloves and other supplies in May. Direct Relief will continue to cooperate with local organizations to provide essential resources during the pandemic.

The economic crisis in Lebanon has led to a strained healthcare system. COVID-19 has served to exacerbate the already difficult situation. However, acts of global partnership and aid show promise for eventually strengthening the system of healthcare in Lebanon.

Emily Rahhal
Photo: Flickr

relief for VenezuelansThe Venezuelan people are experiencing a crisis with the collapse of their economic and healthcare system. They are challenged with a lack of medical supplies and equipment. Malnutrition and food insecurity are becoming extreme issues as well. Since 2014, it is estimated that more than 3 million Venezuelans have migrated to other countries to seek food and a better life. In the wake of Venezuela’s crisis, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) proposed the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019, which will contribute to relief for Venezuelans during this time of crisis.

Aid to the Healthcare System

The Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019 focuses on healthcare facilities. The bill suggests offering aid by supplying the healthcare facilities with necessary medical equipment, medicines that are in great demand and other basic medical supplies that a facility might need.

With the Venezuelan healthcare system collapsing and shortages of medicine and supplies growing, several diseases, such as measles and malaria, have started to affect many people. This proposed bill will ensure the proper distribution of medicines and supplies to Venezuelan healthcare facilities via local nongovernment organizations.

Food and Nutrition Assistance

Assistance in food and nutritional supplies will also contribute to relief for Venezuelans. The children of Venezuela are experiencing extreme malnutrition in what some researchers are already considering a famine. As much as 41 percent of children can go without eating throughout for an entire day in Venezuela. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell’s bill aims to address the lack of food security and increased malnutrition. The bill will handle these issues by supplying people with food commodities and supplements.

Reports stated in the proposed bill will monitor the relief for Venezuelans. The bill proposes assistance with ensuring that all health and food supplies being distributed to Venezuelans are dutifully selected and spread throughout the entire population. Local nongovernment organizations are to oversee these distributions.

The bill’s reports will cover how well supplies are being spread out to the population and assess the degree of relief being provided to the population. The United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State will oversee the delivery of the assistance and ensure that it is properly handled.

Where is the Bill Now?

On March 25, 2019, the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019 was passed in the House of Representatives and will now move on to the U.S. Senate. The proposed bill was read by the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Foreign Relations on March 26, 2019. Rep. Mucarsel-Powell states that providing $150 million each fiscal year will help to achieve the goals of providing relief for Venezuelans. The proposed bill concludes with condemning the current situation in Venezuela and the actions carried out by the Maduro regime and the country’s security forces.

– Logan Derbes
Photo: Flickr

Norwegian Airlines and Unicef
Since 2007, two organizations, Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF,  have been working together to raise money and support for UNICEF’s humanitarian aid missions. Everyone from the flight crews up to Norwegian Airlines CEO, Bjorn Kos, participates. The partnership started in 2007 when Norwegian airlines began transporting supplies for emergency aid to Yemen on their planes and making yearly donations to UNICEF. In the 10 years since they began working together, Norwegian Airlines raised over $2.5 million for UNICEF.

The ‘Fill A Plane’ Program: Central African Republic

The partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF escalated in 2014 with the maiden voyage of their first “Fill a Plane” program. Norwegian and UNICEF boast that they fill every inch of a 737 Dreamliner with humanitarian aid. This humanitarian aid includes medical supplies, medication and education supplies. The destination of “Fill a Plane’s” first flight was to Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic.

Norwegian Airlines posted a touching Youtube video in 2014 about their first humanitarian flight. In the video, they noted that 8.5 tons of humanitarian aid were loaded onto their 737 in Copenhagen and flown to Bangui in the Central African Republic. This aid went to the thousands of internally displaced people under the care of UNICEF.

The ‘Fill A Plane’ Program: Jordan and Yemen

In 2015, Norwegian Airlines again sent another flight under their “Fill a Plane” partnership program. This time the plane was sent to Jordan to deliver humanitarian supplies to Syrian refugees in the Za’atari refugee camp. Norwegian Airline’s CEO, Bjorn Kos, opens the video by stating that, at the time, Za’atari was the world’s second-largest refugee camp. The contents of this flight focused heavily on educational aid.

There were no flights in 2016, so in 2017 Norwegian Airlines sent two. The first mission was to Bamako, Mali in March 2017. Here school supplies were an important part of the mission. The video shows Norwegian Airline employees taking part in classes as well as bringing food from the flight to the children’s hospital. The second mission was to bring aid to Yemen. Tons of food and cholera medication for 300,000 children were loaded onto the 787 Dreamliner, a much larger plane than the previous 737’s. The aid had to be offloaded in Djibouti due to the dangerous conflict in Yemen.

Future Flights

The future of the partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF looks promising. In 2018, Norwegian Airlines sent its largest “fill a plane” flight to Chad. The plane held over 13,000 kilos, over 28,000 pounds, of humanitarian aid to Chad. This flight also included the Norwegian Minister of International Development, who is shown in the video helping the Norwegian Crew members and other employees load the cabin with boxes of supplies.

In every video, the Norwegian Airlines CEO, Bjorn Kos looks genuinely happy to help his company do its part in humanitarian aid around the world. The CEO does not charge when he gives speeches and seminars; he only asks that a donation is made to UNICEF. With recognition from his own government and on the world stage, hopefully, the partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF will continue to grow and more flights can be sent each year, helping those in need.

Nicholas Anthony DeMarco

Photo: Google

Ethiopian Airlines
At the 2018 Arabian Travel Awards, Ethiopian Airlines was voted as the “Best African Airline,” a recognition of the carrier’s impressive expansion into new markets over the past decade.

To fuel its growth and Ethiopia’s booming tourism industry, Ethiopian Airlines plans to build a new airport with an annual capacity of 80 million passengers. In addition to connecting Ethiopia to foreign investors and multinational companies, the airline has engaged with impoverished Ethiopians directly by funneling their profits into charitable causes.

In the article below six things to know about Ethiopian Airlines and its impact on economic development in Ethiopia are explained.

Top 6 Things About Ethiopian Airlines

  1. Ethiopia’s location in the Horn of Africa makes it a prime spot for aviation. As a proof for this statement, the number of passengers flown by Ethiopian Airlines tripled from 2008 to 2017. A 2015 United Nations article found that Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s fastest growing and most profitable passenger and cargo airline. On the cutting edge of innovation, Ethiopian Airlines was the second carrier in the world to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner back in 2012. As of now, the carrier serves 101 international and 22 domestic destinations.
  2. Ethiopian Airlines is key for the country’s Vision 2025 framework, under which the government plans to make Addis Ababa the leading manufacturing hub of Africa. The national airline will help Ethiopia achieve Vision 2025 by connecting Ethiopia to China and South America. Last year, the carrier launched flight to Chengdu, China, and in 2018 the Airlines has expanded into Buenos Aires, Chicago and Geneva.
  3. The Airline’s expansive network has helped to transform Ethiopia into a major tourist destination. In 2015, the European Council on Tourism and Trade named Ethiopia the world’s best tourism destination. That same year, 681,000 tourists visited Ethiopia, supporting a tourism industry that makes up 4.5 percent of the country’s GDP and provides more than one million jobs.
  4. Ethiopian Airlines has made environmental protection a pillar of its corporate social responsibility. Under its “Plant one tree for every passenger flown” project, the company will plant nine million trees across different regions of Ethiopia. Moreover, the airline has trained its employees on integrated waste management, hazardous chemical treatment, air quality monitoring and sustainable production. At the Ethiopian Aviation Academy, pilots-in-training can now take a course on the U.N. Environment Sustainable Consumption and Green Economy Program. Erik Solheim, the Head of U.N. Environment, applauded Ethiopian Airlines for raising the bar on environmental responsibility and green business.
  5. Beyond its commitment to a green economy, Ethiopian Airlines uses its planes to deliver educational supplies to impoverished Ethiopians. For example, Ethiopian Airlines partnered with the African Legal Library Project, a nonprofit organization, to transport 40 boxes with 720 law books, as well as 101 e-Readers with over 1,000 books each to Debre Markos University.
  6. The company has also used its resources to deliver medical aid to impoverished Ethiopians. In 2010, Ethiopian Airlines collaborated with Seattle Anesthesia Outreach (SAO) to deliver 12,000 pounds worth of medical supplies, mainly anesthesia equipment to the Black Lion Hospital, the largest hospital in the country. To supplement the delivery of medical supplies, 20 SAO doctors traveled to Ethiopia as part of a humanitarian trip. To this day, Ethiopian Airlines fills empty cargo space in its passenger planes with humanitarian supplies.

Rapid, sustained growth is in the Ethiopian Airlines’s horizon. In May 2018, Ethiopian Airlines accelerated its expansion plans, confirming that it will order 13 additional Boeing 787s and six Airbus A350s. According to the Brookings Institution, the company plans to invest in start-up airlines across Africa.

It bought a minority stake in Malawi Airlines in 2013 and helped relaunch Zambia Airways in January 2018. Looking forward, Ethiopian Airlines plans to jumpstart national carriers in Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea, signaling its desire to connect not only Ethiopia but the whole African continent to the global economy.

– Mark Blekherman

Photo: Flickr

While Americans may enjoy the entertainment of recreational drones, in South Africa the devices serve an alternative purpose. Barry Mendelow, Professor Emeritus at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, has developed drones into what could be a life-saving delivery service.

Mendelow has dubbed his drone delivery service ‘e-Juba,’ inspired by carrier pigeons (iJuba in Zulu).

e-Juba would provide remote areas with essential medical supplies, including vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

The drones are not only designed for one-way deliveries but also allow users to send their own blood and DNA samples to labs for testing.

With this system, disease detection and diagnosis could take as little as a day. Without the drone delivery service, says Mendelow, current disease diagnosis takes up to six weeks. During this period, a patient’s condition could worsen or a contagious disease could be spread to others unknowingly.

This large window of time is due in large part to a general lack of infrastructure in rural areas. Unpaved roads, according to Mendelow, pose a significant challenge to patients that have to make their way from remote areas to labs for testing. E-Juba serves as a simple and convenient solution to the infrastructural obstacle.

Trials that Mendelow conducted demonstrated a high possibility for the drones’ success. 300 flights, each traveling about 30 kilometers, did not lose “a single cargo or artifact.”

The drones may prove especially beneficial to revolutionizing healthcare in South Africa, a country that the World Health Organization deems as having one of the “highest burdens” globally for Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.

South Africa’s 2014 incidence of TB at 834 per 100,000 people. Compare this figure to France, with a 2014 estimate of nine per 100,000 people.

Mendelow’s project is close to coming to fruition. With the trials successfully conducted, all that he now requires is clearance by the South African Civil Aviation Authority to implement e-Juba as an authorized delivery system.

Jocelyn Lim

Sources: Barry Mendelow, Barry Mendelow et al., National Health Laboratory Service, New Scientist
Photo: Google Images

From the end of December 2013 to the beginning of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent 125 tons of medical supplies to Aleppo, SyrianArabRepublic. Aleppo is the site of thousands of killings and one battleground for Syria’s civil war.

Delivering such a large supply to this crime-ridden area required three shipments. The first shipment would treat 55,000 patients and second shipment approximately 213,000 people. This month’s delivery of 20 tons of supplies will treat 118,000 patients.

Rural villages have been most affected by the crisis of the SyrianArabRepublic. The lack of health workers, shortages of medical supplies and no access to health care facilities have placed most of the Syrian population at risk of a disease outbreak.

Medical supplies that have been collected include surgical materials, ICU beds, medicine and infant incubators. These supplies have reached several NGOs, the Syrian Red Crescent Society and health authorities to treat thousands of patients who have been affected by government air raids. Doctors have been treating a variety of patients with shrapnel wounds, amputations, brain injuries and deep abdominal damages.

Several pharmaceutical plants that produce medicine locally have been damaged and families that can afford medicine are paying extremely high prices on the black market. These shipments are thus giving hope to several families in rural areas that now have some aid distribution centers nearby. Aleppo is the site of destruction, with ongoing machine guns firing and explosives detonating, but civilians are forced to accept the chaos.

Regardless of the city’s dangers, the WHO continues to provide continual supplies since medicine production in Syria has been reduced by 65 percent to 70 percent. Mobile health clinics and local health workers are focusing on infectious disease and outbreak response, malnutrition, mental health and chemical hazards that continue to burden the Syrian population.

– Maybelline Martez

Sources: World Health Organization, CNN

The need for new, inexpensive medical innovations in the third world is staggering. These devices must be easy to transport, operate, and most importantly, be affordable, or else they will remain available only to the wealthy. These ten new health care innovations for developing countries will be ready to distribute by 2015 and have the potential to save 1.2 million people.

1. Kit Yamoyo: This medical kit contains anti-diarrheal medicine that is packaged to fit over Coca-Cola bottles.

2. Anti-Shock Garment: The cloth is wrapped around the lower body to alleviate excessive bleeding after childbirth. The garment also prevents blood from leaving the vital organs until the mother can be transported to a healthcare facility.

3. Chlorhexidine: An antiseptic that averts dangerous infections that result from cutting the umbilical cord on a newborn baby.

4. Rotovac: The vaccine prevents rotavirus related diarrhea.

5. The Backpack-PLUS: It provides health workers with the tools to deliver a baby properly.

6. Helping Babies Breathe: Although not technically an invention, the program trains one million “birth attendants” to keep babies breathing after they are born, despite the birthing conditions.

7. Bubble CPAP: This airway device forces oxygen down babies’ lungs to save them from severe respiratory diseases.

8. Phone Oximeter: The mobile phone-based monitoring system is able to report blood oxygen levels for healthcare workers in areas without proper health facilities. The device assists in the diagnosis and treatment of pre-eclampsia and pneumonia.

9. Sayana Press: A contraceptive that comes packaged and pre-filled with a one dose injection system called Uniject.

10. Magnesium sulfate: Reportedly a highly effective treatment for severe pre-eclampsia and eclampsia as well as pregnancy-related conditions.

Another innovation that deserves honorable mention is the winner of a competition funded by Boehringer Ingelheim and organized by HITLAB. The winning device is a wireless pill bottle that benefits people living with diabetes. The pill bottle, in addition to storing medicine, provides data transmission, measuring medicine and sending patient reminders.

These innovations will be vital in the fight against poverty and disease in developing countries.

– Mary Penn

Sources: Business Standard, Boehringer Ingelheim
Photo: Flickr