Lebanon’s queuing affair threatens the World Bank vaccine lifeline

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It was a Covid-19 vaccine scandal that transplant-weary Lebanon had braced itself for – but its audacity hit a nerve. In the second week of a national vaccine rollout, 16 lawmakers and a handful of staff in the Lebanese parliament were vaccinated with the BioNTech / Pfizer shock. Days earlier, President Michel Aoun, his wife, and 10 members of his retinue took the picture.

This means that politicians were among the lucky ones less than 30,000 Vaccines administered to date in Lebanon, which are home to more than 6 million people, including around 1.5 million refugees. Last week’s revelations fueled angry queuing allegations from the political elite. Thalia Arawi, ethics officer for the national vaccination program, resigned. Abdul Rahman al-Bizri, the head of the Vaccination Committee, denounced a “violation of the vaccination process that cannot be tolerated.”

The affair looked like another example of the bad governance and alleged corruption that has led the Lebanese people to distrust their leaders and for the international community unwilling to go for the hardest-hit country in the Middle East donate.

“International aid has been coming to the county for decades and is then being passed on to politicians and their friends,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanese researcher at Human Rights Watch. But recently, “the international community has grown fed up with the level of corruption in Lebanon” and has made much-needed restoration money conditional on fixed terms.

The Lebanese health minister Hamad Hasan has defended the national vaccination plan as “robust, coherent”. © Mohamed Azakir // Reuters

Lebanon isn’t the only country where queuing controversy arises. ArgentinaThe president fired his health minister for facilitating vaccination for VIPs with government affiliations. In Warsaw last year 450 doses were given to Polish celebrities and politicians. Peru’s former president secretly got his shots along with his wife and brother in October.

Lebanese politicians, however, were already berated as the state collapses under the weight of a pandemic-aggravated economic crisis fueled by corruption and mismanagement and the aftershocks of the devastating port explosion in Beirut, largely due to official negligence.

Bad governance has frustrated the Lebanese for years, leaving them without basic services such as reliable electricity and mass protests. When the World Bank made Lebanon the first country to receive funding for vaccine purchases, using $ 34 million from an existing health loan, it said it was difficult to be fair.

“We call on everyone in Lebanon to do so. . . waiting for their turn, regardless of their professional rank or political affiliation. ” said Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank ‘s Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa at the start of the program. “There won’t be any Wasta”- the Arabic word for connections that will do you a favor. The International Federation of the Red Cross was commissioned to monitor the vaccination program – including the “suitability of vaccine recipients” according to its own information Press release.

If the violation is confirmed, the World Bank may “stop funding vaccines and support the COVID19 response across Lebanon !!” Saroj Kumar Jha, the bank’s regional director, tweeted. There is no decision yet.

Bessma Momani, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said the reallocated loan was “a favor” for the World Bank at a time when Lebanon could not borrow. This violation “will spoil this process” for other countries that may have tried to follow the precedent.

For 730,000 registered Lebanese waiting to have their turn, this is particularly annoying as, despite the urgency of Lebanon’s many crises, lawmakers have not formed a new government – seven months since the previous one resigned.

Hamad Hassan, the caretaker’s health minister, insisted that the vaccinated MPs had registered. He defended the national plan as “robust, coherent”. In the meantime, vaccinated MPs wondered what it was about. Yassine Jaber, a MP who was shot despite his age limit under 75, said his asthma made him vulnerable.

“Two MPs recently died because of corona,” he said, adding that Parliament was “infected” with the virus. Jaber argued that lawmakers should be viewed as front-line workers and that the incident was disproportionately blown up: “It’s only about 20 to 21 injections”.

The shots for MPs further damaged public confidence, but Majzoub said: “Now that they have clearly deviated from plan, it is difficult to take them at their word.”

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