Updated on August 11, 2020
On August 4, 2020, a massive blast ripped through Beirut, Lebanon, after highly explosive material being stored in a port warehouse ignited. More than 150 people were killed and over 6,000 were injured. The explosion generated shockwaves that shook the ground, shattered windows, and smashed buildings across the Lebanese capital, a city already reeling from economic crisis and a surge in COVID-19 infections. MSF has launched a response to the disaster, providing medical and mental health care in the city and distributing essential supplies like water and hygiene kits.
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“The situation in Lebanon was already critical before the explosion,” said Emmanuel Massart, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) coordinator of operations. “The number of COVID-19 cases was on the rise in the past weeks and some hospitals were starting to become overwhelmed dealing with these patients. More people were also struggling to access health care because of the economic crisis. The blast transformed what was already a very difficult situation into chaos in just a few seconds.”
On the day of the explosion, some MSF team members rushed to hospitals and health centers to lend a hand. Since then, we have donated first-aid kits and other medical supplies to local organizations caring for the large numbers of injured people. On August 7, MSF teams began going door to door in areas of the city to support patients who might need medical care. We are distributing water in areas of the city hardest hit by the blast. Our mental health team is setting up a fixed point of intervention near the ruined port to provide direct psychological support for people in need. We are assessing other urgent medical needs and standing by to provide additional aid. "The situation in Beirut is still completely catastrophic," said Massart.
In the hours following the explosion, thousands of injured people poured into the hospitals that had not been damaged or destroyed, according to the Lebanese Minister of Health. Most of the health facilities that remained functional were quickly overwhelmed and short of supplies. Other health structures closer to the port were completely demolished, and several more were so severely damaged that they had no choice but to close and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The treatment of severe and critical cases—such as people suffering from head and chest injuries—was prioritized by hospitals and ambulance services on the first night. Since then, thousands of other patients have been treated for less severe injuries such as cuts caused by glass from shattered windows.
“Some of our colleagues went spontaneously to health facilities to see how they could lend a hand to the medics dealing with the emergency,” said Jonathan Whittall, MSF’s emergency response coordinator in Beirut. “We also donated first-aid dressing kits to the [Lebanon’s] Civil Defense in the immediate aftermath.”
Since then, MSF has been organizing additional donations of medical supplies to support those tending to the high number of injured people and we are assessing the need for a mobile team to support existing medical and civil society services providing care. There are an overwhelming number of people with superficial injuries who are still struggling to access treatment.
MSF teams are continuing to assess the needs of hospitals and emergency services and are exploring other ways to support Lebanon’s medical system in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and other health actors. We are also looking at the needs in communities living in neglected areas of Beirut. Mental health care is a key pillar of MSF’s intervention in Lebanon, and our team is being equipped to provide psychological support to those who need it in the city. MSF’s Bar Elias hospital, in the Bekaa Valley, is also being prepared if needed to welcome patients in need of post-surgical care.
“We are continuing to identify additional ways we can help the people of Lebanon in the wake of this tragedy,” said Whittall.