One of the world's most devastated health systems

It was a perfect storm

Many of the world's healthcare systems are struggling with the pandemic, obviously.

But among industrialized countries, there's one place where a combination of factors - including the collapse of their economy, political instability, migration, and an unrelated massive disaster - have merged to hit their hospitals in a way that may have no equal.

That country is Lebanon.

"You lose count."

Omar al Masry sees it every day. He's a Red Cross responder here.

"The image that is always on my mind, is just the hospital beds that are completely full. Honestly. The scenario in itself is just, I am not going to say it is scary, there is risk being taken, but just seeing hospitals truly full with patients that are ill, on ventilators, on oxygen, it just it puts you down at times, you know?"

The hospitals are full here in a way that other countries fear may happen to their own.

Some simply can't take any more. Reuters heard one story of a resident who spent hours calling hospitals trying to find a bed for her grandfather.

When that failed, she apparently took matters into her own hands and bought her own oxygen tank, and put him on a stretcher outside a hospital, where a doctor snaked an extension cord through a window for him.

But this is bigger than just COVID infections.

Lebanon's economic crisis actually started several months before the pandemic, in 2019. Now it's in total financial collapse.

And then there were the events of August.

The massive explosion accident that hit Beirut, one of the biggest non-nuclear detonations ever recorded, in which 200 people died and leveled city blocks - the shockwave struck hospitals in the city already dealing with the pandemic.

The political fallout from this? Almost immediate violent protests - the resignation of their government.

Reuters has also previously reported that hundreds of doctors have recently left Lebanon, migrating to other countries.

And at one hospital, doctors told us at about 40% of their staff were either sick with COVID or in isolation themselves. It's all too much for the healthcare system to handle.

Nadim Kahwaji is another first responder, like Masry:

"That's the reality. You can't do anything. We have to adapt. It's not that hospitals don't want to take anyone in. They're not able to (...) We drive from one hospital to another trying to find beds. (...) There was one time where we had to go through four hospitals until we found a place. The fourth one worked."

Where does this end for Lebanon?

The caretaker government says it's doing everything it can.

Some medical workers we spoke with believe it's acted too slowly and not aggressively enough, but it has recently ordered a 24-hour curfew to last until at least January 25th. It's also secured millions of vaccine doses including through the World Health Organization.

Georges Juvelekian is the head of critical care at Beirut's Saint George Hospital. We asked him, does he still have hope?

"Of course I have hope. If you have no hope you can't continue. No one can. If you're running a marathon you won't continue unless you know there's a finish line."

Video Transcript

- It was a perfect storm. Many of the world's healthcare systems are struggling with the pandemic, obviously. But among industrialized countries, there's one place where a combination of factors, including the collapse of their economy, political instability, migration, and an unrelated massive disaster have merged to hit their hospitals in a way that may have no equal. That country is Lebanon.

OMAR AL MASRY: You lose count.

- Omar Al Masry sees it every day. He's a Red Cross responder.

OMAR AL MASRY: The image that is always on my mind is just the hospital beds that are completely full. Honestly, the scenario in itself is just-- I'm not going to say it's scary, fear, but fear is because it's being taken. But just seeing hospitals truly full with patients that are ill, on ventilators, on oxygen, it's just-- it puts you down at times, you know?

- The hospitals are full here in a way that other countries fear may happen to their own. Some simply can't take anymore. Reuters heard one story of a resident who spent hours calling hospitals trying to find a bed for her grandfather. When that failed, she apparently took matters into her own hands and bought her own oxygen tank and put him on a stretcher outside a hospital, where a doctor snaked an extension cord through a window for him.

But this is bigger than just COVID infections. Lebanon's economic crisis actually started several months before the pandemic in 2019. Now it's in total financial collapse. And then there were the events of August, the massive explosion accident that hit Beirut, one of the biggest non-nuclear detonations ever recorded, in which 200 people died and leveled city blocks. The shockwave struck hospitals in the city already dealing with the pandemic.

The political fallout from this, almost immediate violent protests, the resignation of their government. Reuters has also previously reported that hundreds of doctors have recently left Lebanon, migrating to other countries. And at one hospital, doctors told us that about 40% of their staff were either sick with COVID themselves or in isolation. It's all too much for the health care system to handle. Nadine Kahwaji is another first responder like Masry.

NADINE KAHWAJI: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: That's the reality. You can't do anything.

NADINE KAHWAJI: We have to adapt.

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: It's not that hospitals don't want to take anyone in. They're not able to. We drive from one hospital to another trying to find beds. There was one time where we had to go through four hospitals until we found a place. The fourth one worked.

- Where does this all end for Lebanon? The caretaker government says it's doing everything it can. Some medical workers we spoke with believe it's acted too slowly and not aggressively enough. But it has recently ordered a 24-hour curfew to last until at least January 25.

It's also secured millions of vaccine doses, including through the World Health Organization. Georges Juvelekian is the Head of Critical Care at Beirut's St. George Hospital. We asked him, does he still have hope?

GEORGES JUVELEKIAN: Of course I have hope.

INTERPRETER: If you have no hope, you can't continue. No one can. If you're running a marathon, you won't continue unless you know there's a finish line.