The COVID-19 Pandemic in Lebanon
Published on May 16, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.
Mitigating the effects of the coronavirus crisis has felt like a puzzle that every country is trying to put together. In this article, Lewis Nasr, a Lebanese medical student, gives an at-a-glance look into the Lebanese COVID-19 landscape.
What is the pandemic situation like in Lebanon?
Lebanon’s first documented case of infection by COVID-19 was on February 21, 2020. As of my time writing this (Friday, May 15), there are just 891 confirmed cases. The evolution of cases is shown in the graph below, courtesy of the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health. Of the 891 cases, 236 have recovered and we, unfortunately, have had 26 deaths.
Evaluating the response
Lebanon has been an unlikely success story in managing the pandemic. In comparison, Norway (having itself received praise), which has a population of 5.3 million as opposed to Lebanon’s 6 million, has more than 8,100 confirmed cases and 230 deaths. In one way or another, this small nation has, up until now, avoided taking a fatal hit—despite being in the throes of an economic catastrophe and political deadlock.
What has Lebanon done to slow the spread of COVID-19?
Lebanon acted quickly. Just eight days after the first reported infections, schools were closed. This has since been complemented by the closure of bars, restaurants, and airports. In addition, there have been measures to limit circulation of cars and a lockdown with curfews. Also—quite ironically—the Lebanese people's scepticism of the government and its ability to manage the crisis has helped keep people at home: in a way, many of us have taken our wellbeing into own hands for the greater good. There have been extensive campaigns to inform and push citizens to practice social distancing.
Testing has been set up and results are received in 24 hours, faster than many other nations. It's also free at government hospitals or for a fee at private ones. There are fears of inadequate testing volumes, but the majority of symptomatic individuals are addressed.
What's coming next?
The big picture is not crystal clear as of yet. Similar to other nations, there are certainly many unreported cases, especially concerning asymptomatic people and also, no doubt, in regions with suspiciously low infection rates. As of now, it's unclear if we have reached the peak, or if a new wave of infections might hit Lebanon when (or “if”) the virus reaches the almost 1.5 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees who live in densely-populated camps or settlements. Adherence to social distancing must continue.
How is COVID-19 being treated in Lebanon?
Medical teams in all the major hospitals have formed task forces to address the growing challenges. Dr. Fadi Nasr, hematologist/oncologist at Hotel Dieu de France in Beirut, says, “Studies are ongoing. We have to keep watch every day for clinical and therapeutic updates. We are constantly refining our protocols to assure the highest quality of care for our patients.” He informed me that he is part of weekly meetings to stay up to date and follow up on all approved treatments of COVID-19.
Medical students in all this
As medical students, we are restless in the face of the pandemic. We realize that a difference of only a few years would have meant we joined the frontlines. We may have not completed our training yet, but we’ve shown our resilience by setting up COVID-19 telephone hotlines and answering calls, sharing reliable information like infographics and videos online, and—of course—by insisting we continue our training so we can step up in case the shortage of medical workers reaches a critical point. I cannot deny that medical students’ productivity and resolve are being tested now more than ever, but we have a culture of having each other’s backs, and we know that the night is darkest before dawn.
We are all in this together. In these troubling times, all we can do is be patient, take care of ourselves, and stay informed. For a trusted source of information, visit Osmosis’s COVID-19 resources page.
Lewis Nasr is a medical student at the Saint Joseph University of Beirut in Lebanon and is currently participating in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. He is currently leaning towards the Hematology & Oncology specialties. Lewis is an American citizen, but has spent most of his life in Lebanon. He plans to return to the US in the near future to continue building his career there. Outside of medical school, Lewis tries to take in life at its fullest through experiences such as scuba diving, skydiving, and spending time with family and friends. He is currently practicing social distancing and wishes everyone health and safety during this difficult time.
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