With compounding financial problems plaguing the health care sector amidst the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis, the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) laid off between 800 and 850 of its staff members. Tensions and emotions ran high as hundreds of employees, including 150 nurses, were terminated without prior notice.

Worried about a backlash from angered and despaired employees, AUBMC requested the presence the Lebanese security forces prior to making the announcement.

Many were left without the means to support themselves and their families, as working households across Lebanon continue to struggle to make ends meet at a time where the value of the Lebanese Lira remains in free fall and the country faces a looming risk of famine.

Early in June 2020, the American University of Beirut (AUB) announced that it would be forced to dismiss around 25 per cent of its workforce, affecting mostly those in administrative positions.

AUB, one of the region’s most prominent universities, is currently facing “its greatest crisis since its foundation in 1866,” said its President Fadlo Khuri.

Further straining the university’s financial resources is none other than the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has commenced legal proceedings to sue the AUB for approximately one million U.S. dollars in owed compensation as part of an exit package.

Diab was an engineering professor at the AUB and served as its vice president for regional external programs.

The layoffs at AUBMC could not have come at a worst time for Lebanon, as the country is currently experiencing a resurgence in the number of coronavirus cases.

Friday saw a record number of coronavirus infections within a 24-hour period, as the Ministry of Public Health reported 101 new cases. This raises the total number of confirmed cases to 2,700.

In light of these developments, Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan is set to announce strict measures on Monday in an effort to halt the continuous rise in cases.

The situation in Lebanon has been making it difficult for hospitals to provide patients with life-saving surgeries and treatments, mostly due to the government’s failure to reimburse private and public hospitals; a crisis which is seriously endangering the health of the Lebanese population.

Hospitals are also struggling with the purchase of medical supplies and paying their staff as the Lebanese Lira continues to depreciate and the U.S. dollar remains scarce, further impairing the health care sector’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the Lebanese government could be found in breach of its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Pursuant to the international treaty to which Lebanon is a party, states are required to “recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” as well as take steps to create the conditions which would “assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.”

Bassam Azzi holds both a civil law degree (LL.L.) and a Juris Doctor from the University of Ottawa, as well as a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in international criminal law. He is a member of the Law Society of Ontario and practices law in Ottawa, Canada.