How Does the Economic Collapse Endanger Women’s Reproductive Health?
By Safaa Ayyad.
Women’s bodies are monopolized by the economic collapse in Lebanon, while the crisis has marginalized their basic needs since its inception.
It started with not subsidizing female-related products such as sanitary napkins and everything related to women’s personal hygiene supplies, and many women suffered from poor menstruation.
This crisis hit women in their wombs, and they were unable to follow-up periodically with gynecologists and obstetricians, and to conduct the necessary periodic examinations.
In addition, the crisis of the drug shortage and the insane increase in prices. So, the monthly visit to the doctors to follow up on the fetus’ health became a visit every 3 months, at most.
The cost of the monthly ultrasound was about 400,000 Lebanese pounds, and the prices of medicines to stabilize pregnancy and prevent deformities were no less than 500 thousand, per medication.
In addition to vitamins and other nutritional supplements necessary for the health of pregnant women. Keeping in mind that these prices are not fixed and are constantly rising.
In 2021, a woman lost her fetus, after she was unable to provide pregnancy stabilizers and injections that prevent blood clots.
The crisis’ serious impact on pregnant women is complemented by the high financial cost of deliveries, whether natural or cesarean.
These costs have prompted many pregnant women to decide to have an abortion and to resort to illegal clinics, in order to abort the fetus.
Economic collapse turns sterility voluntary!
The crisis also caused a 15.5% drop in the number of births in Lebanon, from 86.584% in 2019 to 74.049% in 2020, according to figures from the Directorate General of Civil Status.
In an exclusive interview with “Sharika Walaken”, a Lebanese gynecologist, who preferred to remain anonymous, pointed out that “women are going to clinics only for the IUD insertion to avoid pregnancy. It costs about $70 and lasts 5 years.”
The doctor explained that “the high demand for IUDs is due to the discontinuity of contraceptive pills for more than 6 months from the market, and the increase in their prices after lifting the subsidy. The price of condoms reached 500 thousand Lebanese pounds, and contraceptive pills reached 250 thousand Lebanese pounds, and these prices are constantly rising.”
She pointed out that “these women practice voluntary sterility because of their fear of childbearing in these economic conditions.”
The suffering of women is beyond their means
Crisis repercussions are not limited to pregnant women only. M.H, who works in the military and enjoys health insurance coverage, has recently started looking for a gynecologist, whose medical examination costs are appropriate to her financial ability, especially since she suffers from a hormonal problem.
The medical examination, along with the cost of the necessary tests and medication, will exceed her monthly salary in the Internal Security Forces.
So far, she has not succeeded in finding a doctor, so she is living in a state of fear and anxiety over her delay in receiving treatment due to the fact that the Social Security of the Internal Security Forces has stopped covering medical differences, most of which are now paid in US dollars, while her monthly salary does not exceed one and a half million Lebanese pounds.
As for the major crisis, it is for women who face problems with the ability to reproduce, and who require very expensive health treatment. In addition to the prices of vaccinations, which are paid in US dollars.
It is also not possible to ignore the psychological impact of this suffering, in which women bear the physical and psychological repercussions, and the impossibility for them to obtain the psychological support necessary to withstand and confront the high cost of psychological treatment.
Journalist F.S., who shared with us her personal experience without mentioning her name, incurs about 15 million Lebanese pounds per month for a health condition that she describes as treatable.
She suffers from an ovarian cyst, a common condition among women, especially in the Middle East, and its treatment is known. She was also deprived of her decision to have children, due to the lack of injections.
She said in her interview with “Sharika Walaken”: “I was forced to not have children, and when the medication became available, and I was able to receive treatment, I started worrying over my doctor’s high examination fees, which amounts to 400,000, and I must visit her 3 times a month. The injections required for my treatment cost between 7 and 9 million Lebanese pounds.”
She added, “The monthly medication to regulate the menstrual cycle, which I cannot do without, has increased in price from 5 thousand Lebanese pounds to 160 thousand , and it has been missing from pharmacies for a long time.”
She also explained that “the National Social Security Fund does not cover any of these costs. It considers that everything related to attempts to procreate does not fall under the category of urgent or intractable issues and can be left to nature. Is it conceivable that the NSSF controls the desire of some women to have children?
F.S. also did not neglect to talk about her suffering in obtaining mental health care, with the high costs of psychiatric treatment in Lebanon.
As for the young woman, “Najwa.S,” who is in her twenties and works in a shop, she suffers from a gynecological problem that requires monthly follow-ups with the doctor, and the purchase of medication on a monthly basis.
She decided to reduce her visit to the doctor, and replaced the monthly visit with one every two months, especially since every time she had to get an ultrasound.
Speaking to our platform, she said, “the treatment incurs more than a month’s salary, while the minimum wage is still 675 thousand Lebanese pounds. What is happening is truly a disaster.”
No follow-up to prevent disease
For her part, Dr. Laila Noureddine, who works in the south of Lebanon, pointed out that “patients in rural areas are still able to visit the doctor because the examination fees are less expensive than in the cities and the capital, Beirut. But the true crisis is that it is impossible to provide patients and women in particular with the medicines needed for treatment, due to either the medication shortage or the high prices.”
She added that “the bill in hospitals has been greatly inflated, and health services have been greatly reduced.”
She also stressed that “women who wish to have children face deprivation of motherhood, due to the high cost of vaccinations, the prices of which start from $1,500 and rising according to the specific condition, and according to the hospital bill.”
Dr. Noureddine does not deny the decline in the periodic follow-up that women should carry out in general, that is, those related to the periodic examinations and radiographs necessary for the early detection of breast and cervical cancer.
Advertising and awareness campaigns carried out by the Ministry of Health and the comprehensive health care centers in the month of October annually, so far, have not noticed the difference in prices from one place to another.
The prices of these tests of early detection of cancers differ from one laboratory to another, and from one hospital to another. Such as the Mammography and Ultrasound image, which amount to 600 thousand Lebanese pounds, and the MRI image, which amounts to 2 million and 600 thousand Lebanese pounds.
While many laboratories are now charging part of the prices in US dollars, and that’s without diving into tests related to hormones, glands and vitamins, which are also included in the periodic follow-up.
Of course, all the suffering of women and the danger to their lives are not heard. They have to make twice as much effort as men for their pain to be taken seriously in emergency rooms and with doctors, who are armed with the patriarchal saying that has become an all-consuming one: “you’re exaggerating for attention.” And there are scientific studies documenting this gender discrimination of women’s pain in emergency rooms.