9th December, 2020
The Arab British Chamber of Commerce held a webinar on 9 December in order to raise awareness of the present situation in Beirut following the explosion that devastated the city on 4th August inflicting serious damage to its hospitals.
Viewers of the webinar heard that some 17 hospitals had been damaged by the blast; four had been severely damaged and 16 health centres had also suffered serious damage to their ability to care for patients. The total cost of the devastated healthcare infrastructure was put at around $150 million.
In opening remarks, Mr Bandar Reda, ABCC Secretary General & CEO, described it as an honour to support such as worthwhile cause. Supporting Beirut’s hospital reconstruction was a great example of constructive cooperation between the British and Arab peoples.
Mr Reda urged the business community to extend its support to the Lebanese medical sector in this time of need.
Chairing the event, H E Mr Rami Mortada, the Ambassador of Lebanon in the UK, warmly thanked the ABCC for its support in organising the webinar and for UK-Lebanese cooperation.
The event looked at how the current crisis could be turned around by making innovative responses and adopting new practices that bring benefits to patients and long-term improvements in healthcare, including new models for the provision and delivery of healthcare.
Speakers from the UK health sector believed that the experience of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic could be of benefit to Lebanon as it responds to the crisis following the devastating 4 August explosion.
As Professor Rebecca Shipley, Healthcare Engineering at University College London (UCL), explained, the UK had been able to develop new respiratory devices to assist Covid-19 patients. These devices had since been adapted for use in countries such as Palestine and South Africa.
This could be seen as a model for a future collaboration between the UK and Lebanon. The Ambassador expressed keenness to follow up on this possibility with Professor Shipley and her team.
H E Mr Mortada expressed the view that the discussion would help shed light on the practical assistance that various stakeholders could provide to help the people of Beirut to rebuild their healthcare services.
The Ambassador set the scene for the panel discussion by pointing out the history of medical care in Lebanon and its traditional role as a centre of professionalism and expertise for the entire Middle East.
He stated that a funding gap still existed between what international donors had pledged in support of Lebanon and what was actually required to deal with immediate and longer term needs.
H E Mr Mortada said a priority of a future Lebanese administration would be the complete overhaul of the healthcare infrastructure of the country for which a partnership of public and private sectors would be essential.
The important step would be to restore the sense of community and togetherness that Lebanon had traditionally been renowned for until the onset of the recent economic crisis.
Prof. Mervyn Singer, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, UCL, believed that he need for reconstruction should be grasped as an opportunity for a new start in medical provision. the need to respond to the current crisis could act as a catalyst for advancing forward.
Dr Jihad Makkouk, Chief of Hospitals, Dispensaries, and Medical Professions Service, Ministry of Public Health, described the progress that had been made in creating a modern healthcare sector over the last 20 years which had been halted by an economic crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 and the Beirut explosion.
Professor Mark Wilson OBE, Consultant neurosurgeon at Imperial Hospitals NHS Trust, explained how technology in the form of mobile phone apps had been used by the NHS and voluntary carers to help patients during emergency cases and during the pandemic.
Consultations with GPs were now more frequently help online avoiding the need for patients to visit surgeries or hospitals.
He offered to work with Lebanese colleagues to help adapt technology to meet the country’s medical needs.
Ms Nour Najem, Chair, Lebanon Needs, one of the country’s NGOs active in medical care, said that it was vital to encourage more local products and take an holistic approach to rebuilding the healthcare sector so that every person’s needs were treated irrespective of income.
Dr Naji Abi Rached, Medical Director, Lebanese Hospital Geitaoui (UMC), described in vivid detail the immediate impact of the explosion on his hospital and explained how the medical teams had responded to support the injured in the aftermath of the event.
It had only taken the staff 48 hours to get the main medical units back up and running despite the devastation caused. However, there remained a significant shortfall in resources. He estimated the total cost of the damage at $150 million.
Summing up, H E the Ambassador said that the webinar had succeeded in highlighting the key challenges and explained the increasing importance of digital technology for healthcare. The examples of good practice given by the speakers offered reasons for hope. The discussion would help in identifying what needed to be done to build a more efficient, patient focused service.
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