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LEBANON CRISIS

Cancer patients protest in Beirut, call for solution to medicine shortages

The Barbara Nassar Association and multiple activists denounced "out-of-reach" treatment prices and medicine trafficking.

Cancer patients protest in Beirut, call for solution to medicine shortages

Activists and cancer patients demonstrate in front of the Martyrs Statue in downtown Beirut, Oct. 2, 2022. (Courtesy of Hani Nassar)

"We don't want monuments to be lit up in pink in October, we want our medicine." "Cancer patients have the right to uninterrupted treatment." "Our government is killing us."

On Sunday, dozens of demonstrators and cancer patients marched from Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut to the Statue of the Emigrant, in front of the port, to denounce the difficulty of accessing treatment amid Lebanon's economic collapse. The protesters decried medicine shortages, expensive and out-of-reach treatments, and medication trafficking, as well as the government's failure to provide the necessary funds to help patients.

"The majority of breast cancer screening is done today at a late stage ... due to a lack of means to get tested annually," Hani Nassar, president of the Barbara Nassar Association For Cancer Patient Support, which organized Sunday's demonstration, told L'Orient-Le Jour by phone. "The patients then fight against death and not against the disease," he said.

According to Nassar, "the rates for ultrasounds and mammographies, which before the onset of the crisis cost about LL80,000, now oscillate between LL3 million and LL4 million. These figures are out of reach for many Lebanese whose purchasing power has been considerably reduced."

"Hundreds of patients have been forced to stop their treatment because of the high cost of drugs and chemotherapy sessions. Others are unable to find their drugs, as many products are out of stock in Lebanon or delivered in insufficient quantities," Nassar said.

Better traceability of medicines

In early 2022, caretaker Health Minister Firas Abiad set in motion the "MediTrack" system to deal with the shortage and illegal storage of drugs. This project has still not been implemented.

"We will call on Parliament, in a second step, to pass a law that obliges the Minister of Health to implement a computerized system of traceability of drugs, once this project is in place," Nassar said on Sunday. He also called on the government to ensure funds for importing cancer drugs.

Read more:

Cancer medications disappear from the Ministry of Public Health at record speeds

MP Ghada Ayoub, (Lebanese Forces/Jezzine), who participated in the demonstration, called for the "crime against cancer patients to stop."

"I pledge to bring the voice of cancer patients to Parliament and to hold the government accountable," Ayoub said.

Meanwhile, MP Taha Naji (March 8/Tripoli), who was also present at the event Sunday, joined forces with Ghada Ayoun. "I call on the outgoing cabinet to ensure a loan for the treatment of cancer patients. My colleague and I are committed to presenting a bill in their favor with our respective parliamentary groups," he said.

Black market

President of the Pharmacists' Syndicate Joe Salloum, who also participated in the rally, pointed out medicine shortages. "Many subsidized treatments that reach Lebanon are sold on the black market at inflated prices," he told L'Orient-Le Jour, urging improved traceability of products. Salloum demanded that the share of the state budget devoted to the subsidies of these drugs "increase from LL25 to LL60 million" to meet the needs of all patients.

Finally, Salloum said he hoped that drugs stored in the warehouses of the Ministry of Health in Beirut's Karantina neighborhood "be delivered to all patients, not just those who do not benefit from the National Social Security Fund coverage, while the NSSF is no longer able to cover the care of patients."

For Fadia Mekkaoui, a patient who has been suffering from breast cancer for a year and a half, the country's medical crisis has made her illness more difficult. "For more than six months, I had to interrupt my treatment many times, both because of shortages and the high cost of medication," she told L'Orient-Le Jour from the demonstration on Sunday.

Last August, the outgoing Minister of Health Firas Abiad ordered an investigation after a donated cancer treatment ran out in record time. He later announced that the medicines had not been stolen.


"We don't want monuments to be lit up in pink in October, we want our medicine." "Cancer patients have the right to uninterrupted treatment." "Our government is killing us."On Sunday, dozens of demonstrators and cancer patients marched from Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut to the Statue of the Emigrant, in front of the port, to denounce the difficulty of accessing treatment amid Lebanon's...