‘This is the worst disaster my team has ever had to deal with’

Smashed windows in an ICU unit, Geitaoui Hospital, Beruit.
Smashed windows in an ICU unit, Geitaoui Hospital, Beruit.
A newly built state of the art SARI Treatment Centre, Geitaoui Hospital, Beruit. (Rizaur-Reid August 2020)

Members of the The UK Emergency Medical Team begin to build a picture of the extent of the damage to the Beirut health care system and the challenges that lie ahead.

The UK Emergency Medical Team has been visiting affected health facilities across Beirut and meeting with Lebanese health workers and clinical staff, to get an in-depth understanding of how the multiple crises are affecting healthcare provision in Lebanon.  They’ve been listening to their assessment of outstanding needs and gaps, to build a comprehensive picture of how the UK can best support.  The team, deployed by the UK Government, is funded by UK aid.

Lebanon has highly skilled medical facilities, but the explosion hit at a moment when Lebanon’s health services are already stretched to crisis point, grappling with a severe economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Geitaoui Hospital, which the UK Emergency Medical Team visited on Sunday, was 1.5km from the blast site and one of the hospitals destroyed. Almost all the hospital’s wards were destroyed, including a newly-built state of the art COVID-19 Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) treatment unit. The structural damage was extensive, with most windows smashed and ceilings collapsed.

Geitaoui Hospital’s Medical Director, Dr El Khalil described how medical staff carried patients out of destroyed wards in their arms in complete darkness, down six flights of stairs, as the electrical power had been blown out. The hospital’s core staff successfully transferred all admitted patients to other hospitals, including those in intensive care. Despite having years of experience in responding to humanitarian crises and mass casualty events, Dr El Khalil described this as the worst disaster his team has ever had to deal with.

David Anderson, UK Med’s Humanitarian Health Advisor (Outbreak), and UK Emergency Team needs assessment team member said:
“The Lebanese people have done an outstanding job at coping with this disaster, despite the extensive damage caused by the blast. Geitaoui Hospital was a modern and well-equipped facility, set up to deal with trauma and COVID-19 to an excellent standard. The hospital has been utterly devastated by the explosion and shock wave, which rendered the entire facility unusable.
“As a emergency nurse, I can only imagine how horrific it was to deal with the huge numbers of patients in the initial hours after the explosion. It’s astounding that there were so few casualties, which is testament to the extraordinary efforts and skill of the Lebanese medics.
“The challenge now is looking beyond the immediate crisis, and getting health facilities up and running again. It’s clear that COVID-19 will be a significant issue in the coming weeks.”

The UK Emergency Medical Team team also visited warehouses in the port to get an understanding of the impact on medical supplies, and met with the Lebanese Red Cross at the explosion site, as well as other EMT, Search & Rescue, health and humanitarian teams.






UK Med Health Advisor David Anderson visiting with Hospital Director Dr Geitauoi Hospital, Beirut.
UK Med Health Advisor David Anderson talking to Hospital Director Dr El Khalil, Geitauoi Hospital, Beirut. (Ritzau-Reid August 2020)
UK EMT Members visiting Geitaoui Hospital, Beirut (Ritzau-Reid August 2020)
UK EMT members visit Geitaoui Hospital, Beirut (Ritzau-Reid August 2020)

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