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Lebanon’s hospitals, long considered among the best in the Middle East, are cracking under the country’s financial crisis, struggling to pay staff, keep equipment running or even stay open amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

Private hospitals, the engine of the health system, warn they may have to shut down.

Meanwhile, chronically underfunded public hospitals, which have led the fight against the virus, fear they will be overrun.

Thursday, July 16, 2020.

A patient is comforted by a relative, at Family Medical Center, a private hospital facing a financial crisis, in Majdalaiya village, north Lebanon. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP

Across the country, hospitals and doctors are reporting shortages in vital medical supplies such as anesthesia drugs and sutures. With power cuts that run through most of the day, they pour money into fuel for generators, and many are turning away non-critical cases to conserve resources.

“The situation is really catastrophic, and we expect a total collapse if the government doesnt come up with a rescue plan,” said Selim Abi Saleh, the head of the physicians’ union in northern Lebanon, one of the country’s poorest and most populated regions.

Last week, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious university hospitals, the American University Medical Center, laid off hundreds of its staff last week citing the disastrous state of the economy.

So far Lebanon has kept a handle on its pandemic outbreak, through strong lockdowns, aggressive testing and a quick response, largely by public hospitals. The country has reported fewer than 3,000 infections and 41 deaths.

But with cases rising, many in the field fear the health sector can’t hold up under a surge and a financial crisis worsening every day.

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