On 4 August 2020, a powerful blast ripped through the port warehouses near central Beirut in Lebanon, after highly explosive material that was being stored there ignited. Over 100 people have been killed and nearly 5,000 thousand injured. Teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are assessing the needs of hospitals and emergencies services in Beirut, and are looking to provide support to the health system in Lebanon, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and other health organisations.
Two days on from the massive blast, the death toll is still growing as more bodies are found under the rubble. The blast generated seismic shockwaves that shook the ground, shattered windows and smashed buildings across the Lebanese capital. It was the most powerful explosion in years in Beirut, a city already reeling from economic crisis and a surge in COVID-19 infections.
Listen to Emmanuel Massart, MSF Operations Coordinator in Lebanon, describe the situation, and early MSF response efforts, the day after the blast on 4 August.
“The situation in Lebanon was already critical before the explosion,” explains Emmanuel Massart, MSF Operations Coordinator. “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 healthcare because of the economic crisis,” says Massart. “The blast transformed what was already a very difficult situation into chaos in just a few seconds.”
In the hours following the explosion, according to the Minister of Health, thousands of injured people poured into the hospitals that were still functioning. Most were quickly overwhelmed with the flow of patients and started to run low on supplies. Other health structures closer to the port had been completely destroyed, and several others were so severely damaged that they had to close and transfer all patients elsewhere.
The treatment of severe and critical cases – such as head injuries and chest injuries – were prioritised 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,” says Jonathan Whittall, Coordinator of MSF’s Emergency Response in Beirut. “We also donated first aid kits to the Civil Defence in the immediate aftermath.”
Since then, we have been organising additional donations of medical supplies to support those tending to the high number of injured and are assessing whether we can set up a mobile team to support the 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.
We are also looking at the needs in communities living in neglected areas of Beirut. Additionally, mental health is a key pillar of MSF’s intervention in Lebanon, and the team is being equipped to provide psychological support to those who need it in the city. Our hospital in Bar Elias, in the Beqaa 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,” says Whittall.