Carrying a child and becoming a parent can be a daunting experience, but it is even more complicated when living in an unstable country like Lebanon.
With Lebanon’s national currency having lost more than 98 percent of its value since 2019 and inflation at record levels, the cost of living has soared.
Meanwhile, prices in dollars have returned to pre-crisis levels, compounding the financial burden on families.
Furthermore, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) has yet to adjust its coverage levels to reflect Lebanon’s economic reality, leaving residents with no choice but to purchase private insurance — with premiums paid in “fresh” dollars — in hopes of adequate coverage.
Both before and after delivery, the evidence is clear: having a child in Lebanon is more expensive, and many households are forced to cut back on expenses they would normally incur for their newborns.
L’Orient-Le Jour conducted a comparison of expenses related to having a child in the pre-crisis period and in March 2023, when the Lebanese lira crossed the LL100,000-to-the-dollar threshold.
The first expense that has surged amid the crisis is childbirth, mainly due to the decrease in NSSF coverage levels rather than hospitalization costs.
Alia Basset gave birth to her two children 16 years ago, before the crisis.
“Back in 2007, the NSSF covered 90 percent of my delivery costs, which amounted to $3,000 [LL4.5 million at the pre Feb. 1 official peg]. I only had to pay 10 percent, or $300 in total,” she recalls.
Before 2019, the NSSF provided partial coverage for childbirth to mothers, reducing their financial burden. However, as of March 2023, with the national currency surpassing LL100,000 to the dollar, the coverage that the NSSF provides is no longer significant.
Vicky gave birth to a baby boy named Elias in January 2022. If she had solely relied on the NSSF and not obtained private insurance beforehand, she would have had to pay $2,595 of the $3,000 cost of the delivery. At the new official exchange rate of LL15,000 to the dollar, the NSSF now covers only 13.5 percent of the actual cost of the delivery.
The depreciation of the Lebanese lira has also had an impact on the cost of maternity-related expenses beyond the cost of deliveries in hospitals or specialized clinics.
Mothers have had to become more resourceful or make compromises.
Alia, for example, had to undergo a non-invasive prenatal diagnosis that cost $300 during her risky pregnancy with her second son.
Prior to the crisis, the test was priced at LL450,000, but in March 2023, it costs over LL30 million. To put this into context, the minimum wage in Lebanon as of October 2022 is LL2,600,000.
Unfortunately, foregoing or finding alternative solutions to maternity-related expenses is not limited to prenatal testing.
Maternity-related products cost a small fortune
The dollar price of a Clearblue pregnancy test appears to have decreased between 2019 and March 2023. However, in Lebanese lira the cost of the same pregnancy test has increased by 25 times since the start of the crisis. In March 2023, the test costs LL250,000 compared to LL10,000 in 2019, putting employees paid in lira at a disadvantage compared to those paid in dollars.
Prior to the crisis, a Clearblue test cost just 1.5 percent of the monthly income of a person earning minimum wage, compared to nearly 10 percent in March 2023.
In addition to the cost of pregnancy tests, the price of infant milk has also risen sharply since the government permanently terminated subsidies on such products in January 2023.
As per the Health Ministry’s latest published list in March 2023, a 400-gram jar of Bebelac is selling for LL612,439 or $6.12, compared to LL11,998 or $4.84 in March 2020.
In 2020, a container of infant formula represented 1.7 percent of the monthly income of a person earning minimum wage, whereas as of March 2023, it costs a quarter of a person’s monthly income.
In addition to the rising prices, the availability of infant milk in Lebanon has also become a major concern for new mothers.
Claire, who gave birth to a baby boy in Beirut in February 2022, experienced this firsthand as she struggled to find enough powdered milk for her child.
For her, the inability to feed her child was the most stressful aspect of the situation.
She emphasizes that finding powdered milk in Lebanon, even if you can afford it, is very complicated. Claire had to negotiate with a pharmacy to ensure that she would have enough milk for her child for at least six months.
Expensive pregnancy monitoring
Typically, a pregnant woman will regularly visit a gynecologist to monitor the progress of her pregnancy. However, due to the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, gynecologists are seeing a decrease in the number of visits to their offices.
Rima Cheaito, the president of the Lebanese Midwives Association, commented on the situation, noting that pregnant women attend specialized clinics less frequently. “With the crisis, mothers-to-be are trying to reduce their visits to the gynecologist from one a month to once every two or three months,” she explains.
Joe Feghali, a gynecologist at Saint-Georges Hospital, has also noticed a decline in the number of pregnant women seeking consultations. According to him, the number of consultations is now three times lower than before the crisis. However, his fees in dollars have not yet returned to 2019 levels.
“With the crisis, the price of my consultations has dropped to two-thirds of their real value. Previously, my patients paid between LL50,000 and LL150,000 Lebanese, equivalent to between $33 and $100. Today, they spend between $15 and $30 per appointment,” he explains.
Lastly, Cheaito believes that the decrease in the number of births, coupled with the migration of young couples who are of childbearing age, could lead to demographic changes in Lebanon.
This article was originally published in French by L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.