“I washed my sister’s body and saw blue spots as a result of clots,” said 40-year-old Ali Taha from the city of Baalbek. “But had it not been for that coincidence, I wouldn’t have known that the hospital had registered her death among those who died from corona. Are we at a place where they profit from our deaths?”
Lina, his sister, had passed away in August from a heart attack, after struggling for three years with breast cancer. Two days after her death, Ali received a surprising call from a friend who works at the Ministry of Health, offering his personal condolences. He went on to ask him about the burial procedures the family had followed, as his sister died from the coronavirus.
His friend had assumed as much, given that Lina’s name was listed under deaths due to COVID-19 at the ministry. Yet, Lina’s medical report not only clearly stated that she died of a heart attack, it also included the negative result of a PCR test she had taken at the Amal University Hospital in Baalbek.
“Suppose my sister passed away due to the virus,” Ali added. “My family and I were not infected although we spent her last days by her side. I hugged and kissed her a lot, but I was not infected, nor were any of my family members.”
Lina’s death was not the only case that was recorded to be due to infection with COVID-19.
Rana, who prefers to remain anonymous, went through a similar experience. Her mother had passed away in a hospital, and the administration offered to register her death under COVID-19, in exchange for a sum of 5 million Lebanese pounds, although her mother had a completely different cause of death.
There have also been cases, in which patients’ family members were offered exemptions from paying their hospital bills in exchange for registering them on the COVID-19 death list.
“After my friend was unable to pay the huge hospital bill following the death of his father, the administration offered to register his father’s cause of death as coronavirus, in exchange for an exemption from the expenses, but he refused,” Ali said, indicating this frequently happened in the Baalbek region.
The reason behind registering a false coronavirus death appear to be related to obtaining the sum of money provided by the Ministry of Health in case the hospital receives a corona case. Or is it only the result of chaos in the hospital’s administrative ranks?
Ali and his family pressured the hospital and the Ministry of Health to find out why his sister was registered as a corona death, but the hospital administration kept assuring him that “his sister had died as a result of a heart attack.” Ali also received many phone calls asking him to stop discussing the problem in the media because it was an “accident.”
Daraj contacted the hospital administration, but it denied all knowledge of the case, noting that the hospital, at that time, had not yet allocated a section for corona. Adding: “That section was only opened on December 8, 2020, in the presence of the Minister of Health Hamad Hassan.”
Daraj also contacted doctor A.K., a specialist in cardiovascular diseases, who evaded answering questions on why cases are falsely recorded under COVID-19 deaths.
“This epidemic is still new and doctors don’t know much about it,” he explained. “It is said, for example, that the virus may kill the arteries of the heart, block the bloodstream, and thus cause a heart attack. One hospital can consider and record the death as a heart attack, while another records it as a Corona death. Things may get mixed up in cases of death, and there are no accurate scientific or academic tools to diagnose them. This explains the high death rate due to the virus in Lebanon.”
This in addition to other medical errors, including laboratory errors with the results of PCR tests. In fact, doctor A.K. told Daraj that he had examined a patient suffering from pneumonia with an X-ray, discovering that the virus had spread all over his lungs, but the result of his PCR test was negative for Covid-19. The patient passed away later on.
Loans For COVID-19 Deaths?
By mid-December 2020, Lebanon had a total of 192,139 cases since the epidemic started, 1,210 of which resulted in death. The highest daily death rate was 24, which was recorded on November 26 last year.
According to World Bank data, the state is providing a loan of $120 million to the “Lebanon Health Resilience” project, out of which $40 million is allocated to combat COVID-19. This is divided into three main aspects, namely monitoring and detecting infected cases, protecting members of the medical sector, and supporting multiple sectors, epidemic-related projects, and community engagement campaigns. The data does not explicitly address hospital support in cases of deaths due to coronavirus.
Daraj contacted the representative of the World Health Organization, Iman Shankiti, in Lebanon, who denied providing any material aid to hospitals, stressing that what the organization provides is limited to in-kind [non-monetary] assistance only.
Suleiman Rashid, the head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals in Lebanon, also denied any knowledge of the issue at hand, stressing that “there are no funds allocated to support hospitals in the event of deaths of corona victims.”
When confronted with the documented cases that suggest otherwise, he pointed out that “there is a governmental committee dedicated to monitoring the number of corona deaths and checking the circumstances of their death, and the responsibility rests on that committee.”
Is the highest death rate recorded in Lebanon in a single day.
Sources from the Ministry of Health also denied any knowledge about financial allocations to hospitals for COVID-19-related deaths. They pointed at the existence of an international committee affiliated with private company Med Gulf, which is responsible for monitoring the patient’s health and financial files. Each hospital is held accountable based on these reports. In fact, the hospital is punished by downgrading or suspending its contract with the ministry in case of any errors. The Lebanese medical sector prevails in a state of chaos: from laboratory errors that lead to faulty PCR results to violations of health standards that raise doubts about the accuracy of the daily number of infections. All this necessitates the existence of one victim: the Lebanese citizen.
This investigation was completed with support from the Internews Foundation.