A Lebanese Healthcare Milestone: Mental Health Is Now Covered By The Ministry Of Health

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One of the major problems that psychiatry patients in Lebanon face is having their mental health disorders not recognized by any insurance or governmental payment agency, which forces them to foot medical bills that can reach astronomical rates very fast.

There are next to zero insurance companies in the country that cover anything mental health related, even though about a quarter of the Lebanese population can be diagnosed with one mental health disorder or another.

On Friday, as reported by The Daily Star, Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani announced that his Ministry will now, and for the first time ever in Lebanon, begin to cover mental health under its care plans which are available for all Lebanese citizens.

This isn’t the only accomplishment to be attributed to the Ministry. Hasbani also declared that eight mental health institutes will be created by the ministry for treatment and administration of care, as well as more focused training of professionals in the field.

“The Ministry of Health will begin to cover mental health as part of a comprehensive medical plan, managed by the Primary Health Care Department and supported by the World Bank. We will work on curing it of these issues that can frustrate and cause damage to citizens.”

To say how important such steps are in the Lebanese healthcare sector is not enough. Mental Health has always been considered a taboo in Lebanese society, even if perceptions are ever slowly changing. It hasn’t been a year that we spoke about a young Lebanese girl committing suicide because she had become so clinically depressed and unable to seek help, because such help is not as easy to come by as it should.

This measure by the MoH will save lives, and further improve the level of medical care that we can administer as doctors to our patients in this country, by lessening the fragmentation of care that arises when you have an entire facet of medicine without any form of coverage.

The next step that Minister Hasbani and the ministry should undertake is to reform insurance laws in the country to get insurance companies not to stigmatize mental health, by having them cover it like any normal illness that they’d cover in any circumstance.

I commend the ministry of health for this step, with hope to see more like it from other facets of the Lebanese government. It’s a very important step, and an essential one at that, in our fight against the stigmatization of mental health, as we try to remove it from our long list of Lebanese taboos.

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Lebanon Has The Arab World’s First Ever Ordained Female Pastor: Rola Sleiman In Tripoli Is Pioneering

A blog reader sent my way a Huffington Post article that was published yesterday about how Lebanon has the Arab world’s first ever female pastor: Rola Sleiman, who heads the Presbyterian Church in Tripoli, up North.

Rola was ordained as Reverend Rola Sleiman on February 26th, 2017 in a 23-1 vote that makes her, historically, the first Arab woman to ever be the head of a church. In fact, Reverend Sleiman was actually heading the church for the past few years as a pastor, but without being ordained she was unable to perform Communions or Baptisms, and needed to have a male priest oversee her work.

She is now the spiritual leader of her congregation, a job she’s been technically doing since 2008 – except right now, she doesn’t need any men of the cloth to supervise her anymore. Rola Sleiman thinks “it’s not a big deal” that such an event occurred. She says “I was serving my Church and will continue serving.”

But this is a big deal. The fact that a Presbyterian Parish in Tripoli ordained a woman to be their spiritual leader speaks volume about the strides forward that some parts of Lebanese society are doing. Rev. Sleiman is the first woman – ever – in the entire Arab world’s Christian population be be ordained as a priest. In other words, she’s the first woman to break into a calling that’s only been reserved exclusively for men.

That small congregation in Tripoli will now have the honor to be headed by Rev. Rola Sleiman for the following years to come. She’s a woman who is now championing equality in facets of Lebanese – and Arab – societies that we never thought could be broken into. It’s fitting that this occurs at the start of the international month for women empowerment.

Rola Sleiman’s ordainment is of vital importance in the climate of the world today where far-right groups are taking power and throwing minorities and women rights to the back of any tangible importance. As she told Huffington Post: “If the Church discriminates against women, what should we expect of the state? Christ is love, and love does not distinguish between men and women.” She is breaking tradition, ancient rules and cultural sensitivities.

In fact, she may be breaking some of the strongest traditions in the country and the region. For many, their highest form of authority is the priest who has always been a man. This time, it’s a woman. I hope Rev. Sleiman becomes the champion that her position permits her to be.

Of course, this will not change the status quo of the fight for equality between the sexes in Lebanon or the Arab world in general, but it can change some of its dynamics. To have a woman be ordained as a priest for a congregation – even if it’s small – and have that congregation not be opposed to it (as is obvious through that 23-1 vote) speaks volumes about how far we’ve come as a society, and it makes me proud.

In a country and a region where woman, despite being a demographic majority, are vastly under-represented be it in religious affairs, politics, business, etc… Rola Sleiman’s ordainment speaks volumes.

There will be people in this country, Christians and otherwise, who will have a problem having their Church headed by a woman. Catholics and Maronites don’t even allow it. But in a landscape filled by men, a change of perspective and, therefore, a change in direction is what is needed. Rev. Rola Sleiman can be that catalyst towards change in the heart of the Lebanese Church and the face of Arab Christianity.

Here’s to many more years to come in joyous and prosperous service of your altar and congregation, Rev. Sleiman.

When A 63 Year Old Militia Member & Minister of Sports & “Youth” Bans MMA in Lebanon For Being “Too Violent”

lebanon-mma

I will never get how a politician whose background is education and who’s nearing the Lebanese legal retirement age has the qualifications to head the Lebanese department of Sports and Youth, but here we are – as usual – and that person is Mohammad Fneish.

The Lebanese minister of sports and youth is usually inconspicuous. They sponsor a few tournaments here and there, issue statements in support of our national teams every now and then, but the sports situation in the country is improving at a pace slower than a snail’s, the clearest indication our athletes not bringing in any medals at the Olympics and barely receiving governmental aid. In fact, those athletes had to pay for some of their expenses at the previous Olympics.

Today, Mohammad Fneish decided that MMA, which stands for mixed martial arts, would be banned in Lebanon and have all its licenses revoked, according to Sports-961. The resolution, which was published yesterday, says the following:

  • Article 1: Resolution 67/1/2016 on 10/4/2012 regarding MMA is annulled, and so the said game becomes one of the non-practiced sports in Lebanon.
  • Article 2: It is prohibited to any party, and under any title, to hold games, competitions and events of MMA or any similar sport in which a cage and violence are used, and that, under the risk of applying the laws in force.
  • Article 3: This resolution will be published and divulged where needed.

Before going into the benefits of a sports like MMA, I can’t but note the irony in anyone banning a sports in Lebanon because it’s too “violent.” Our basketball games have a tendency to break out in riot just because. Our football games have the same tendency as well. MMA is one of the few sports in the country that is not synonymous with “violence” at this point, but it’s the one that banned.

It was a few weeks ago that all hell broke loose between Homentmen and Riyadi because the latter team’s fans raised Turkish flags to tease the Armenian-Lebanese team. Riyadi and Sagesse basketball games have been held more frequently without fans than with them because of how disruptive and violent they tend to become. Football games featuring Al Nejmeh and Al Ansar have also often managed to turn violent. What’s next, should we ban sports altogether just because the actions of a few individuals taint the bigger picture?

The even bigger irony is that the politician banning MMA is member of a Lebanese militia whose ideological existence is mostly based on the premise of “resistance,” which is inherently violent. How often does Hezbollah brag about its missiles, about its power to stop its enemies in their track? How many times has that party threatened the Lebanese interior to get its way? How many times has that party, in the past decade, launched mini civil wars against fellow Lebanese to get its way? I guess violence is only as such when it’s between two consenting adults in proper gear, but never with tanks and brigades in neighboring countries.

If anything, Lebanon needs MMA for the many benefits it contains which would better our society. It’s a discipline that has been shown to grow the confidence of the person training in it. It teaches them self-defense and is a good medium for them to release pent-up energy. It boosts self-discipline and forms bonds of friendships between those who are training and is known to be a huge stress- relief.

If anything, MMA controls the violent tendencies that we all have inside us especially in a country where daily life serves to boost our anger. Punches and kicks are not “violent” when they’re performed in a controlled medium. It’s like they want people to be on edge all the time and not want them to find media in which they can release all the crap they have to deal with daily because of the inadequacy of our governance.

People can get hurt doing all kinds of sports. You’d think a minister of sports and youth would know that.

Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

Lebanon At 2016 Rio Olympics: Our Athletes, The Possibility of a Gold Medal & Fighting With Israel Over A Bus

Lebanon Olympics 2016

Rio’s 2016 Olympics had their big opening yesterday, or as the joke goes it was similar to an average Lebanese wedding. Critics are hailing Brazil’s celebration of its history without shying away from the bits that are usually covered up such as slavery, and thirsty people are drooling over the flag bearer of a Tonga, which is a country of 169 Polynesian islands.

As it is customary, Lebanon has a collection of athletes – nine – that are representing the country in Rio. Those athletes are:

  • Ray Bassil – Shooting,
  • Mariana Sahakian  – Table Tennis,
  • Ahmad Hazer – Athletics,
  • Chirine Njem – Athletics,
  • Anthony Barbar – Swimming,
  • Gabriella Doueihy – Swimming,
  • Elias Nassif – Judo,
  • Mona Sheaito  – Fencing,
  • Richard Mourjan – Canoe Slalom.

Chirine Njem will be the first woman to represent Lebanon in a Marathon race. Richard Mourjan will also be our first time participating in a Canoe Slalom.

Of the nine aforementioned athletes, Ray Bassil and Mona Sheaito participated in London’s 2012 Olympics.

The last time Lebanon won a medal at the Olympics goes back to 1980, at the Moscow olympics, where Hassan Bechara won a bronze for Greco-Roman wrestling.

In total, our country has a total of 4 medals to its name, two silver and two bronze, divided along the following manner:

  • 1952 (Helsinki Olympics): Zakaria Chehab (silver medal in men’s wrestling); Khalil Taha (bronze medal in men’s wrestling)
  • 1972 (Munich’s Olympics): Mohamed Traboulsi (silver medal in weightlifting),
  • 1980 (Moscow’s olympics): Hassan Bechara (bronze medal in wrestling).

The country has never had an athlete win a gold medal. I guess this is not exactly shocking given how little investment our governments put into sports in general and into nourishing the many athletic talents that our country has. Even sending athletes to the Olympics has proven, over and over again, to be “complicated” for our government. Those that went to London in 2012 reportedly had to finance a big chunk of their participation.

So it’s to that backdrop that it seems unbelievable that Lebanon may have its first shot at a golden medal. As reported by CNN, since her disappointing start in London back in 2012, Lebanon’s Ray Bassil has been working really hard, despite the obstacles set forth by her own country, to get better at what she does. She has since collected medal upon medal, rising to become the world’s #1 female trap shooter.

Ray will be competing on Sunday August 7th (tomorrow) at 3PM Beirut time.

Ray Bassil Olympics 2016 Rio

The schedule of Lebanon’s athletes is as follows, as sent to me by a friend:

Saturday, August 6th
* Mariana Sahakian – Table Tennis.

Sunday, August 7th:
* Ray Bassil: Shooting.
* Gabriella Doueihy: Swimming (women’s 400m freestyle).
* Richard Merjan: Canoe Slalom Men’s canoe single

Tuesday, August 9th: 
* Elias Nassif: Judo – 81 kg elimination round of 32

Wednesday, August 10th: 
* Mona Sheaito: Fencing,

Thursday, August 11th:
* Anthony Barbar: Swimming (men’s 50m freestyle).

Sunday, August 14th:
* Chirine Njem: Women’s marathon.

Tuesday, August 16th:
* Ahmad Hazer: Men’s 110m hurdle race.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Lebanese if our participation went drama free. Lucky for us, the drama started on day zero with the Lebanese and Israeli delegations nearly fighting over being assigned the same bus to be transported to the opening ceremony.

Lebanon - Israel - Rio 2016

The Times of Israel were the first to report on the issue (link), before Lebanese media picked up on the news. Israelis were appalled – gasp – and found the precedence to be “dangerous.” Meanwhile in Lebanon, the news is receiving more comical responses.

There’s not really much to read into it, and the only entity to blame for assigning the same bus for the Lebanese and Israeli delegations is the organizing committee that figured putting two enemy countries that recently commemorated the ten year anniversary of their latest war together on the same transportation vehicle was a good idea.

The Israelis can go on and on about how being blocked by the Lebanese delegation from accessing the bus is “unsportsmanship” behavior. And we, as Lebanese, will have differing opinions about this depending on where we fall on the political spectrum. But the fact of the matter is and will always be: it’s not unsportsmanship to protest Israel’s violations of our land, our people, and the land of the people that have been forcibly made refugees in our country. The Olympic games have never been devoid of political tone, and this is just another manifestation of that.

The Lebanese athletes sharing the bus with the Israeli delegation would have also had repercussions in Lebanon, as it is illegal for us to have any sort of interaction with Israelis. Or have we forgotten the international selfie scandal?

So in summary: we have nine athletes making us proud, one of them might make Lebanese history, and we’ve already fought with Israel. Just another typical day in Lebanon.

Dear Lebanon, The Garbage Crisis Is Not Giving You The Flu

Lebanon Garbage - 3

In the context of a country with any ounce of self-respect, speaking about a garbage crisis that has been going on since July would not only be old news by now, it would be solved old news. Except we don’t live in a country with an any amount of self-respect, and as such Greater Beirut’s garbage situation is still a topic, albeit less hot, of discussion.

A few months ago, when people were actually interested in the garbage crisis, which is to say when the garbage was visible on their streets and not tucked away in some valley somewhere or in a makeshift pyramid near the port, I wrote an article on this blog (link) about the health risks that the crisis might involve especially with the rain season.

As a very brief summary, in theory the garbage crisis and the many variables around it would cause the following:

  • Many types of bacterial infiltration of the waters,
  • Many heavy metals and other elements-related pollution,
  • Burning it will increase the amount of carcinogens in the air, as well as exacerbate respiratory conditions in people who have pulmonary disease when they have it.

As long term effects, we could be looking at an increased cancer incidence as a study after Italy’s waste management crisis in 2004 showed.

What the garbage crisis is not doing, however, is giving you the flu or other common infections that we encounter yearly.

Over the past few weeks, which happens to be the yearly flu season in Lebanon, everyone and their mother decided that whenever they got sick, it was because of the garbage crisis in Beirut. H1N1 – or as it’s more commonly known in the country now H1 and 1 – has become so commonly associated with the garbage crisis that the scientific community is probably considering whether to reconsider all the details surrounding H1N1 altogether.

We’ve also heard about “new” viruses attacking the country, such as metapneumovirus B, causing severe respiratory diseases.

This is, quite simply, incorrect.

For starters, metapneumovirus B is not a new virus. It’s been known for at least 40 years now and is actually one of the leading causes of respiratory infections in children worldwide. Lebanon has had this virus before, and it gets treated the same way we treat most viral infections: address the symptoms and provide the patient relief while their ailment resolves.

The case illustrated in this eTobb article (link) about a 25 year old who had a devastating respiratory infection secondary to the aforementioned virus remains, as it stands, a case that fell through the cracks of medicine in the sense that some people will get complications from common infections and we have no way to predict who would be the victim of such complications.

When it comes to H1N1, this is the current state worldwide:

Outbreaks are being reported in Bulgaria, Canada, Ireland, Ethiopia, Pakistan, etc. What do these countries have in common? Nothing, which is precisely the point.

Every year, the world is swept up by a strain of the Influenza virus which, when a person infected, gives them what is referred to as the flu: runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, fatigue, feeling pain all over your body for a few days, etc…. These symptoms usually resolve in a few days and you’re off on your merry way to health.

Some people may also be infected and not show any symptoms. The way this occurs is in sort of a pyramid fashion:

Assume 100,000 people in Lebanon got infected this year. 10,000 of those would show symptoms of the flu. Out of those 10,000 maybe around 100 would require hospitalization. And out of those 100 that needed hospitalization, 1 might die because of complications.

The garbage crisis overtaking Beirut has nothing to do with this. This will happen again next year, with or without a garbage crisis, and it will also happen the year after as it also took place in the years prior. Having a new shiny ribbon of erroneous but appealing explanation to wrap this whole thing with won’t make it go away. People are getting sick all over Lebanese territories simply because this is an infectious disease, not a garbage-related disease; the garbage does not cause H1N1 or the flu. It’s really that simple.

At this rate, getting the first case of Zika virus infection in this country will also be attributed to the garbage.

Therefore, I’m sorry to say that the answer to your question “how did I get sick” is simply “this is how things are,” and not “it’s the garbage that’s killing you.”

You can, however, protect yourself by practicing as much hygiene as possible. Thorough hand-washing is key to prevent the transmission of the influenza virus. Avoid sick contacts if you can. If you’re sick, don’t be a jerk and go around contacting others. Don’t trust your local pharmacist to start you on Tavanic or Klacid or whatever other medication he feels like giving you. This is a virus and antibiotics don’t work. Rest as much as you can, you’ll get better in a few days.