Experts warn mothers and unborn children is in danger. Those most at risk are Syrian refugees who have fled the war. Since October, one-third of children in need of care have not had access to health care. 40% of doctors and 30% of midwives have left the country.
Beirut (AsiaNews) - The economic crisis that has hit Lebanon in the last three years, causing a general impoverishment and worsening of the quality of life, has tripled the number of victims of pregnancy-related complications, undermining the health of expectant mothers and fuelling infant mortality. This is what emerges from a report published yesterday by Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, according to which among the factors that determine a critical situation is the flight of doctors and midwives abroad.
The children most at risk are Syrian refugees who fled across the border to Lebanon because of the war. According to Unicef, at least one-third of children have not had access to health care since October of last year. The number of those dying within the first four weeks of birth "has increased dramatically" among refugees. One figure among others shows the extent of the emergency: from "65 newborn deaths in the first quarter of 2020, it has risen to 137 in the third quarter."
Official estimates report that Lebanon has long welcomed 1.5 million Syrian refugees, who make up about a quarter of the population. "Parents and families in anguish," points out Ettie Higgins, Unicef representative in the Cedar Country, "are unable to access basic health care for their children, while skilled health workers struggle to keep facilities operational. About 40 percent of doctors, including those working with women and children, have left the country, as have about 30 percent of midwives, further undermining the quality of services provided by a nation once considered the region's health hub.
In the past, Lebanon had achieved great success in reducing pregnancy-related deaths and child deaths. However, the UN agency's note continues, the number was on the rise again between 2019 and 2021, rising "from 13.7 to 37 deaths per thousand live births." Faysal al-Kak, coordinator of the Lebanese National Committee for Safe Motherhood, says the number of deaths increased largely "due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus" in 2021, but the economic crisis also had a "significant impact" on the deaths.
"The Lebanese crisis is a strong variable – maybe the mom is not visiting enough, afraid of going to the doctor because it costs money. It gave women a sense that 'I can't go to the doctor'," he told Reuters. The Delta variant of Covid-19 and low vaccination rates has also impacted on mortality .
Rising transportation and service costs due to the collapse of the local currency and the removal of most subsidies on fuel and medicines has weakened primary health care, Unicef confirms. At the same time, childhood immunization rates have declined, leaving hundreds of thousands of children vulnerable to preventable diseases such as measles and pneumonia.